By Sean Sylver, 98.5 The Sports Hub
Kemba Walker scored 26 points in 33 minutes of Thursday night’s loss to the 76ers. It’s the most he’s played since New Year’s Eve against the Hornets, which also doubled as the Celtics’ last decisive victory. Walker missed three consecutive games to start the year and was unceremoniously ejected Wednesday against the Spurs, marking a span of four games where the Celtics’ intensity was called into question.
While Walker is considered a surefire Eastern Conference All-Star, his teammates have often generated the buzz. They laid an egg Thursday, with the wing triumvirate of Gordon Hayward, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum combining to shoot 10-for-26 and score just 29 points. Marcus Smart scored a season-high 24, but it wasn’t enough. The Green have lost three consecutive games for the first time this season.
Mini-slumps happen. Walker is usually a “break glass in case of…” contributor for the Celtics, one who can stave off a loss with his pure talent. Boston had largely avoided bad losses prior to last week. But unlike Kyrie Irving, another talented player who needed to put his stamp on every game, Walker gets his numbers and does it quietly. It gives his running mates some air and space to make an impact.
Walker’s presence does not absolve Tatum’s inconsistency or the undecided chemistry with Brown and Hayward sharing the floor. The C’s are 18-4 when Walker gets 19 or more, which means they’re 7-7 when he fails to reach that milestone (he’s sat four of those games). Some nights, there’s a void.
If Brown and Tatum are All-Stars and Hayward’s truly healthy, they have to find a way to contribute on a more consistent basis. What’s the sense in having four star players if you can’t get at least two of them to click on a particular night?
When not going small (playing Walker, Smart, Hayward, Brown and Tatum together), Brad Stevens has split the center minutes pretty evenly between Daniel Theis and Enes Kanter. While Theis didn’t disgrace himself Thursday night, Kanter was a major component of Boston’s first half success, securing nine rebounds with Joel Embiid off the floor.
Tacko Fall was the only other Boston big to see time (10 minutes) this week, which makes it a true platoon in the absence of the injured Robert Williams III and Vincent Poirier (who is racking up style points, if not actual statistics).
Here is a comparison of the last five games:
Theis: 10.0 points (49 percent shooting), 5.8 rebounds, one block, minus-25 in 23.6 minutes.
Kanter: 9.0 points (49 percent shooting), 10.4 rebounds, one block, plus-8 in 20.1 minutes.
As 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Tristan Deschenes noted in a recent piece, Kanter’s rebounding continues to add a new dimension to Boston’s offense while/ terminating possessions on the other end. Theis remains a more versatile defender who can spread the floor a bit more, but only a little (3-for-11 from downtown).
The data (and the eye test) suggests Kanter has been more helpful in recent matchups. The C’s face more traditional bruisers like Derrick Favors and Andre Drummond in upcoming games.
And the trade deadline is now less than a month away.
Coming Up Next
After five games in seven nights, the C’s get a brief respite before a three-game home stretch that picks up Saturday evening. The Pelicans, Bulls and Pistons will visit the Garden. Keeping with the recent hectic pace, the C’s will go to Milwaukee Thursday night.
Once again, multiple sub-.500 teams are on the horizon, with a chance for Boston to climb back ahead of Miami for the second spot in the Eastern Conference.