This Is A Different Kemba Walker…

By Matt Esposito

I cannot properly articulate how much I’m jonesing to write a 2,000 word love letter professing my admiration of UConn’s finest. But there remains a single soul – Editor Nick – who has the power to stop me and he certainly will. In its place however, is a film-driven, fist-pump inspired article that details how this version of Kemba Walker is energizing the Celtics.

Although I’ve taken a couple night classes at the Bill Simmons School of Athlete Psychoanalysis, I tend to shy away from using it in my basketball diagnoses. Court film and trips to Cleaning The Glass is more my speed. But just this once allow me to indulge myself.

Prior to his stint in Boston, Walker had played in only 11 total postseason contests. Before this season, the last time he had been in a playoff game was when Barack Obama was in office and the Harambe movement was in its infancy of memedom. That’s a long time, folks. Long enough to age me to the point where I want to use the word folks in a blog. Long enough to make an undersized point guard bang bodies with big men and disregard physical safety.

How do I know of this? Walker’s game tape from his first round match up shows a playoff-starved ultra-competitor whose only desire was to play meaningful games once more. So, prepare to feast your eyes on a brand of Kemba Walker toughness that has been dormant since 2016.

When Fouling Is Good

Typically, coaches groan when their star guard catches ticky-tac fouls during high stakes games. Rest assured, Brad Stevens felt happy with some of the calls Walker picked up versus the Sixers.

I was happy too. How could I not be? Walker routinely switched onto players between six and eight inches taller than him and revamped his lateral quickness to bother them. His swatting hands did more of the same. Despite catching some foul calls, Kemba’s aggressiveness and never-back-down attitude galvanized a team missing Gordon Hayward. Walker brings it every night, but something felt different better this time.

This effort will please Celtics fans as the team attempts to progress further into the postseason. Plus, expect refs to swallow their whistles a little more as the playoff rounds continue on. What else did Walker show during this series?

Sacrificing The Body

The common consensus among Boston supporters is that no player sacrifices their body more than Marcus Smart. While that typically holds true, Walker outdid Smart in embracing bodily harm this series.

Philadelphia often tried to get Walker switched onto one of their bigger players. Considering their personnel, this was a scary proposition for the 6-foot guard. Nevertheless, he consistently found himself fighting through screens and drawing charges. The contagiousness of these plays was almost palpable. Plus, Walker drew plenty of offensive fouls.

Even when he got burnt on pick-and-roll coverage, Walker showed his heart. Not only did fighting back to cover Al Horford result in a steal, but it allowed for an awesome inyourface moment when Walker chucked the ball back off of Horford to retain possession.

Yet nothing sums up Walker’s tone-setting more than this next play. After getting knocked down by Joel Embiid, Kemba sprints back on defense to poke away a steal, which leads to a Jaylen Brown dunk. Stevens loved this play so much that he commented on it after the game saying, “that was everything we want to be about, that play.”

Sacrificing The Body Pt. II

For many, the story of Walker’s postseason thus far has centered on his midrange pull ups. Kemba torched the Sixers drop coverage with those vintage shots, proving why he is worth a max salary. I noticed another development, too.

During the regular season, Walker got the free throw line 4.3 times per game. While impressive for a guard of his stature, that rate is not particularly high. Yet, that number jumped to 6.3 during the Sixers series. In fact, is overall free throw attempt rate rose from 27.2 percent in the regular season to 37.3 percent in the postseason.

Walker is flying into defenders more than ever before. The fearlessness it takes to do this cannot be overstated. Perhaps no single play more encapsulates this than one where he fended off the 6-foot-5 Shake Milton for a tough board than purposely hunted out Embiid for an and-1 call.

Check out the bumps he took while driving to the hole to beat the first half buzzer.

Down five during the fourth quarter in Game One of the series, Walker collected another and-1 against Embiid. To do so he took a hard spill onto the floor. Plays like these directly energize teammates and capture momentum. Walker should be lauded for this effort and its positive impact on his fellow Celtics.

What To Expect Versus Toronto

With Hayward still out, expect Marcus Smart to start in his place. Moreover, expect Smart to be matched up on either the somewhat injured Kyle Lowry or Fred VanVleet. It’ll be interesting to see if Stevens puts the lesser defender (Walker) on Lowry due to the latter not being 100 percent healthy.

Although if Kemba continues his spirited defensive play then the match up may not matter much. Simply put, he was an irritant during the Sixers series. The proverbial wedgie during a long bus ride. The shoddy motel WiFi. The friend who checks your battery to justify why he should be charging his iPhone instead. Yes, there is a new life-force in Boston, and it is a pleasure to watch.

Published by Matt Esposito

Founder/Writer for Theplaygrounder.com and contributor to Red’s Army Twitter: @Mattesposito_

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