After nearly three weeks of being out of the rotation, having played as a starter for the first 19 games of the season, Kemba Walker not only returned to the lineup but started for the Knicks at the TD Garden against his former team in the Celtics.
Whether it was his return to the lineup or his return to TD Garden since being traded in the offseason, the Celtics faithful gave the 31-year-old veteran quite the applause as he was introduced.
This was Walker’s first game since Nov. 26 as he was pulled out of the rotation given the team’s play with him on the floor especially on the defensive end.
Having said that, with six Knicks players in the league’s health and safety protocols combined with Derrick Rose’s ankle injury, the 6-foot guard was the team’s best available player to step up.
Although, the New York franchise lost out to the Celtics in the end 114-107, it wasn’t without a fight and Walker was a huge reason for that. The Knicks trailed for nearly all of the first half, including their largest deficit of 16, but in the third quarter, Walker gave everybody – the Knicks and Celtics – a reminder of his impact.
The point guard finished with 29 points, 17 of which he scored in a red-hot third-quarter scoring explosion. His onslaught out of halftime, helped the Knicks outscore the Celtics 41-24 in the period and brought them back into the game.
While he couldn’t wrap up his great game by icing the contest, after fouling out late, Walker did record the team-high plus-minus (+5). That’s something, given the numbers behind why he was pulled from the lineup earlier in the season.
Not to mention the fact that he picked up his sixth and final foul to stop the play after Evan Fournier appeared to injure himself.
In the 18 games until Nov. 26, the team’s net rating with him on the floor was a -11.9 – the worst among major rotation players – and when he’s on the bench, the team’s net rating jumps to +3.0. Walker’s total plus-minus of -122 was ranked 450th among the total of 466 players to log minutes in the games prior to Nov. 26.
Should Kemba Walker play more?
“I know I should be playing,” Walker said postgame.
No surprise there, however, Tom Thibodeau was cautious in his statements postgame before committing to anything.
Tom Thibodeau on Kemba Walker’s performance:
“That’s what he’s supposed to do. He’s a pro, great character, played well.”
On possibly keeping him in the rotation:
“We’ll see. You’ve got to look at everything in totality.” pic.twitter.com/EU6OqbJj3r
— Knicks Videos (@sny_knicks) December 19, 2021
The decision to play Walker more, at least in the near future, might not be in Thibodeau’s hands given how many players the team has sidelined in the league’s protocols.