Playing without Jaylen Brown, and with Jayson Tatum having yet another down scoring night, the Boston Celtics needed a vintage Kemba Walker performance, and he did not disappoint. Walker would finish with 32 points on 11/17 shooting while Chris Paul led the way with 22 for a Phoenix team that has been the best in the league over the past two months, as Boston pulled out a 99-86 victory on Thursday night at TD Garden.
This was a game of runs early, as Boston jumped out to a 21-11 lead in the first eight minutes of action. However, over the next two minutes, the Suns would erase that work with their own 10-0 run to tie the score at 21 with 2:00 remaining in the first quarter. But once the game got tied, the C’s answered back with a 14-0 run that they would never look back from. From that point on, Phoenix never got closer than four points as the Celtics deflected every punch they threw. The Boston lead would grow as large as 21 midway through the third quarter, and every Celtics player who saw the court scored.
This game was the Kemba Walker show from start to finish. His first half was a masterclass, as he scored 19 points on a near-perfect 7/8 from the field. And even with all that scoring, he found a way to dish out 3 assists as well. Even though no other Celtics player reached eight points in the first two quarters, Boston took a 53-37 lead into the half because of Walker’s strong play. Simply put, he won this game for Boston, something that has rarely been said this year.
Another Celtics storyline from this game was the rough shooting performance from Jayson Tatum. He finished just 3-17 from the field, which raises the obvious question about how serious the ankle injury he’s dealing with actually is. While he hasn’t missed any time, he’s struggled with his shot in the C’s last two games, so that is certainly something to keep an eye on going forward. In this game, it didn’t look like he was releasing the ball at the same point in his shot as he usually does. Maybe my eyes were playing tricks on me, but it just looked like his timing was off. However, even as he struggled with his shot, only finishing with 15 points, he found other ways to impact the game. He got to the free throw line consistently and went 8-8 from the stripe on the line, hauled in 11 rebounds, and dished out six assists. For a player that struggled with his decision making when he came into the league, he has shown incredible growth in his passing game.
Make no mistake about it: this was a great win for a Boston team that has struggled with consistency all season. The Suns are a really good team, and have one of the league’s premier floor generals in Chris Paul. Playing without three of their top six or seven players, they found a way to win on the shoulders of Kemba Walker. But even in victory, it’s impossible to not wonder if this team will ever be fully healthy.
Jaylen Brown missed this game with a shoulder injury. Robert Williams has missed the last week with knee pain, after a hip injury derailed his promising sophomore season last year. Prized trade deadline acquisition Evan Fournier has spent more time in the Health and Safety Protocol than on the court for his new team. In a year plagued by injuries and COVID, even as GM Danny Ainge says the team is close to full health, it’s almost hard to believe him. We’ve been down this road before, and been burned. At some point, Evan Fournier is going to need to develop some chemistry with Tatum and Brown, and learn how to be a third option again after years of getting as many shots as he wanted with the Orlando Magic.
Up next is the second half of a back-to-back on Friday night against the Brooklyn Nets. While Brooklyn will be without James Harden, this is still a talented team and should be a tough matchup for Boston. If they can find a way to win another game, especially if some of the above players remain out, it could generate some real momentum for a team that continues to slide up and down the East standings daily. Tip off is at 7:30 in Brooklyn.
(Written by Ryan Whitley)
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