Kyrie Irving suggests shift in Celtics’ strategy for defending Kemba Walker

"Torches us every time we play him."

Kyrie Irving
Boston Celtics guard Kyrie Irving reacts after a referee call while facing the Charlotte Hornets on Saturday. –AP Photo/Jason E. Miczek

Kemba Walker punctuated his continued dominance over the Boston Celtics with two free throws in the final seconds Saturday. The baskets sealed a 124-117 victory for the Charlotte Hornets and capped a 36-point performance for the point guard.

Eighteen of those points came in the fourth quarter as the Hornets went on a 30-5 run to erase an 18-point Celtics’ lead. Walker added 11 rebounds and nine assists.

Kyrie Irving was asked after the game how hard it is to stop Walker when he’s playing at that level.

“It’s one-on-one, pride,” the Celtics guard told reporters. “Down the stretch, try to come in and help as much as possible. We should have probably trapped him a little bit more, like every team does in the league. But we didn’t. Torches us every time we play him. So it’s no surprise.”

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Walker has scored 121 points in four games against Boston this season, including a 43-point night in another comeback win over the Celtics in December. Only the Philadelphia 76ers have allowed him to score more points (148) this year.

After the December defeat, Celtics forward Gordon Hayward noted Walker’s scoring feats were “unbelievable, especially when your whole game plan is to stop him and he is still going off and doing what he does.”

Irving, who finished with 31 points on his 27th birthday, appeared to suggest a new defensive game plan for Boston to prevent more scorched-earth production from Walker in the future. He added that the game was over, in the Celtics’ favor, at the beginning of the fourth quarter before Boston “took our foot off the gas pedal.”

Irving missed four of his five shot attempts in the fourth quarter and could not keep pace with Walker in the final five minutes, when the Hornets’ star outscored him 11-2.

“Obviously, when you lose an 18-point lead, there is a lot of things that go wrong,” head coach Brad Stevens said. “I thought they did a good job of chipping away at it. We did everything that the book is written on to lose a game that you are up 18 at that point.”

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