The Celtics didn’t make a splashy move for a star player at last month’s trade deadline, opting to roll largely with the core it already has in place (excepting the addition of Evan Fournier and the trade of Daniel Theis).
But the team has acquired a very useful player it hasn’t had for much of the season: a healthy and confident Kemba Walker.
After months of ups and downs as he navigated the road back from bothersome knee issues, the 30-year-old guard keeps pushing closer to the form Boston saw most of last season and what it envisioned when Walker came to Boston as a free agent.
Kemba in April (9 games):— StatMuse (@statmuse) April 23, 2021
The Celtics are 8-1 when he plays in that span. pic.twitter.com/s5SsSdSNn7
His 32-point performance Thursday night against the Phoenix Suns, which tied his season-high point total, was the third-best game he’s played all season, according to Cleaning The Glass.
In addition to his scoring output, he played a pivotal role in slowing down the Suns’ offense led by the elite guard tandem of Chris Paul and Devin Booker, drawing three more charges to tie him for the league lead at 19.
It’s just the latest strong showing for Walker over the last month, which has seen him largely remain on a positive trajectory after a rough return from knee injuries back in January.
The game also highlights once again how tough the Celtics can be when Walker is on.
Over the past two seasons, the Celtics are 30-12 when Walker scores 20 points or more, which includes an 11-5 mark when he’s topped 20 points this season. The guard’s April shooting percentage of 46 percent is also the best monthly split he’s put up so far this year and a massive jump over the 40 percent he shot from the field in March.
Additionally, while correlation does not necessarily equal causation, Walker’s points, assists, and rebounds per game and field goal percentage show a much more pronounced difference in wins versus losses than what you see from fellow stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
That’s why Celtics coach Brad Stevens made keeping Walker as healthy as possible a top priority even as the Celtics battle to move up the Eastern Conference standings with little less than a month to play.
“He looks great. He feels great. We stuck with him and stuck with the plan,” Stevens said of his point guard after he scored 26 points against the Golden State Warriors in a win last Saturday. “I said we wouldn’t chase seeding at the expense of the health of our players. It feels like that is paying off.”
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