It looks like the Celtics will be load managing Kemba Walker’s knee for the rest of the regular season.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens told 98.5 The Sports Hub’s “Zolak and Bertrand” on Wednesday that Walker will “probably” not play on the second night of back-to-backs for the regular season.
“We’ll keep his minutes down. I’m not going to play him in the mid-30s (minutes wise) at any point here in the near future,” Stevens said of the Celtics’ plan for Walker moving forward. “It’s all part of a plan that’s not only for the best interest of this team, but also in the best interest of his career here moving forward. As the season goes on and we get into late April, early May, before the playoffs, we’ll ramp him up a little bit.”
Since returning from a 12-week strengthening program after receiving stem cell injections in his left knee, Walker’s minutes have been limited. Walker started off with a 20-minute restriction in his first game back from injury on Jan. 17 against the Knicks. By his third game, Walker’s minutes restriction was lessened and he played 29 minutes in the Celtics’ second straight loss to the 76ers.
Walker missed Monday’s game against the Bulls, which was the Celtics’ first back-to-back game since he returned from injury. Walker will play Wednesday night against the Spurs.
While the Celtics are being cautious with Walker, Stevens likes how Walker’s return is going.
“I think he looks good,” Stevens said. “I guess I’m not surprised though. I understood the angst and concern from the outside because nobody had seen him. But I had seen him for the better part of two or three weeks there right before he started playing and knew what the plan kind of was. It’s a long-term strengthening program.
“The hope with the strengthening program, the hope with the treatment plan is that it’s not something to worry about. But it is something you always have to work on,” Stevens later added. “It is something that you always have to be on top of. He has said this several times, he has been pain-free after these games and that’s really really encouraging.”
Walker was plagued by knee issues in the latter half of last season, forcing him to miss nine of the Celtics’ final 16 games prior to the season stopping due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Walker still dealt with knee issues when the league restarted play in July, forcing him to be on a minutes restriction for the seeding games.
Not long after the Celtics’ season ended, Walker received stem cell injections in his left knee in October. Stevens said that at the time of the injections, they thought he would be ready for the start of this season but the league started the season earlier than expected.
“We thought the season was going to start Jan. 18 or Jan. 20,” Stevens said. “Our plan was to build up to that point. Then, all of a sudden, the season got started at Christmas. The decision was made at that time that we’re not going to start Kemba just because it’s the start of the season. He probably could have, but it would’ve been a back-and-forth all year and it wouldn’t have been best for him. So, we just kept him on that timeline. His hard work is the reason why he is where he is. I also think the plan was very solid.”
Walker’s averaging 17 points and 4.8 assists in 23.5 minutes per game since his return.
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