By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
Celtics guard Kemba Walker’s continued struggles finally caught up to him in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
On the biggest stage of his NBA career to date, Walker connected on just six of his 19 field goals, missed all but one of his nine heaves from the three-point line, and missed multiple defensive assignments in a 117-114 overtime loss to the Heat.
And after the loss, Walker didn’t run from his nightmare night.
“I’m just playing terrible, to be honest,” Walker admitted. “Not much I can say, but I have to be better. I have to do better for this team on both ends of the floor. Have to make better decisions, have to make shots. Just overall, have to do better.”
Walker did come through with a few clutch makes in the fourth quarter and overtime, sure, but the misses were glaring. And no miss was greater than Walker’s clock-draining try in the final minute of the fourth quarter, which saw him go into isolation and essentially waste about 20 seconds before charging on for what was a no-chance, one-versus-all attempt.
These struggles from Boston’s max-contract guard are not just a one-night thing, either. In fact, over the last five postseason contests, Walker is shooting 35.7 percent (25-for-70 shooting), and has connected on just five of his 34 attempts from deep (14.7 percent).
This is a nearly 10 percent drop from his regular-season field goal percentage, and a nearly 25 percent drop from his regular-season three-point percentage. It’s also a far cry from Walker’s postseason start, battered knee and all, which saw Walker channel that ‘Cardiac Kemba’ talk and shoot 48.6 percent from the floor.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens was quick to credit Toronto’s box-and-one defense for limiting Walker over the final few games of the second-round, and had praise for the reach of Miami’s defense in Game 1 when it came to their limiting of the undersized C’s shooter.
“I think some of their guards are able to keep in front [of Walker] with their length,” Stevens offered. “Bam [Adebayo] was switching a ton of pick-and-rolls all day, and he’s a tremendous defender.”
“They’ve got great talent on defense,” Walker echoed.
But that’s where the C’s sideline mastermind is going to need to cook up something greater than the possessions that closed out the fourth quarter, and ultimately forced Boston into a losing overtime frame. And where Walker will need to attack with the ferocity that makes him the Green’s most dangerous backcourt weapon in the clutch.
“We’ll get to the film,” said Walker. “I’ll learn from my mistakes and get better.”