After three weeks of consternation about Walker's balky left knee, Boston's point guard scored 16 points in 19 minutes and looked far more like the All-Star version of himself from the start of the 2019-20 season than the hobbled player we saw before the season paused in March.
Walker looked swift and spry, playing with familiar zip and bounce. He put constant pressure on Milwaukee's defense in the high pick-and-roll and had the shooting touch that often evaded him as he fought his sore knee in the winter months.
Why does it matter so much? The Celtics are legitimate title contenders if they get 35 minutes per playoff game of the Walker we saw on Friday night. The ceiling is much lower if Walker is compromised.
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So even though the Bucks escaped with a win, Boston can take solace in how a healthy Walker could level the playing field against maybe the best team in the conference.
Walker said he "felt pretty normal … [The knee] felt good. I felt very comfortable out there moving." And teammates echoed his assessment.
"I thought [Walker] looked great," said Gordon Hayward. "Definitely showed good spurts there. Definitely brings some pace to our team. Another threat, another ball-handler, another guy that's a competitor and a winner, and we're happy to have him back."
Walker connected on five of his nine shots, including a trio of 3-pointers. After the Bucks opened the game on a 17-2 run - with Boston's only bucket being an inadvertent putback of a Walker miss by a Milwaukee defender - Walker settled his team with a pull-up jumper four minutes in. He hit his first 3-pointer a short time later as Boston rallied back into the game.
Early in the second quarter, he sprinted to catch a pass above the 3-point arc, dribbled back towards the midcourt logo, then accelerated off an Enes Kanter screen before draining a pull-up 3 with Milwaukee's defense sagging.
"Kemba certainly was a positive, I thought," said Celtics coach Brad Stevens. "He just puts so much pressure on defense when he comes off pick-and-rolls and with his speed."
Walker entered the game knowing he was going to play a maximum of 20 minutes but that didn't stop him from playfully lobbying to get some extra second-half floor time. "But nobody listened to me, so it didn't really matter," Walker said with a chuckle. "I knew I wasn't going back in. It was set."
Stevens said he never considered reinserting Walker and reaffirmed that the team is married to its plan of pacing Walker so that he's playing his normal minutes load in the postseason.
"I'm not playing that game. Kemba's knee is the most important thing," said Stevens. "We're trying to strengthen it. His 18-20 minutes, whatever he ended up with, that was part of the plan. We weren't going to stretch that. It's hard after you come out at the end of the third to then be inserted for a couple of minutes."
Walker has embraced the Celtics' plan and says that, tough as it can be, he has to stay committed to the path.
"I knew what I was coming into. I've just got to stay positive, and just keep on knowing that it's part of the bigger picture," said Walker. "My minutes will gradually go up game by game, depending on how my knee acts after every game. So, I'm feeling good. I'm looking forward to [Saturday's] practice, to learn from my mistakes, and then head back into Sunday and play another one and be better."
Spry Kemba Walker the best sight for championship-craving Celtics originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston