The struggle is all too real for All-Star Kemba Walker.
After celebrating the Celtics’ Game 7 win over the Raptors and Walker’s first appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals Friday night, Walker talked about the strength of his teammates, how inspiring guys like Jayson Tatum and Marcus Smart were down the stretch; when it mattered most — Walker knew he needed to start playing better. And Miami wasted no time in reminding Brad Stevens’ point guard of that when they pressured Walker on both ends of the floor.
Walker entered Game 1 lukewarm from his best-of-7 against the Raptors. He missed 13 of his last 15 attempts from behind the arc, shot a pitiful 7-of-27 combined in Games 6,7, and while the Celtics were on their way to squandering a 14-point, fourth-quarter lead he couldn’t buy a basket.
Miami pushed Boston to overtime where they captured Game 1 against the Celtics, 117-114.
“I’m just playing terrible, to be honest,” Walker said after the loss. “Not much I can say but I have to do better for this team on both ends of the floor, have to make better decisions, just have to make shots overall.”
Walker, who finished with 19 points, took 19 attempts to get there, connected on only one of his nine 3-pointers attempted, and went 2-of-6 from the floor in the final frame, including a pair of missed threes.
“Just have to try to make good decisions,” Walker said. “Have to try to find a way to put the ball in the basket.
Kemba Walker in OT
It’s hard to believe Walker nearly won the game in overtime for the Celtics but that’s exactly what happened when his 14-foot fadeaway found the bottom of the net with only 23.6 seconds left to play. It gave Boston a 114-113 lead but eventually led to a Jimmy Butler 3-point play opportunity when he contorted his body to finish a layup and absorbed a blatant Tatum foul that sent him to the foul line.
“Some of the guards are able to keep in front with their length and then Bam was switching a ton of pick-and-rolls all day,” Stevens said. “Bam’s a tremendous defender so we’re going to have to figure out, again, better ways to attack, especially late. I thought that we really moved it at times and then we did get stagnant.”
Jayson Tatum Meets Bam Adebayo
At the end of overtime, Stevens then turned to his other All-Star scorer in Tatum, whose game-winning dunk was emphatically erased by Heat All-Star center Bam Adebayo. It’s the kind of dramatic finish that you’ll see replayed over and over when we look back on the 2020 NBA playoffs.
However, if you ask Stevens, the Celtics shouldn’t have even been in that precarious position, to begin with.
“The fouls killed us and then our transition defense, in addition to playing slower and pounding the ball more so just got to be a lot better in all those areas,” Stevens explained. “These games go back and forth like this. We were down six, I think, and then took that lead. We gotta play better though and transition defense really stands out.”