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Walker: "I Have To Step My Game Up"

Kemba Walker scores 4 points on 1-for-12 shooting in 96-95 Celtics loss to the Los Angeles Lakers

By A. Sherrod Blakely

BOSTON – When Kemba Walker came to Boston, he came for nights like this.

All games are equal, we have been told for years by players and coaches alike.

But we know better.

There are some games that mean more not only because of what that game can do to a team’s overall record and outlook, but also because it has a historical element that can’t be ignored.

The Celtics and the Lakers are iconic franchises, owners of nearly half of all the NBA titles ever won.

And when the latest incarnations of this rivalry stepped on the TD Garden Floor on Saturday night, the game was just the latest mile-marker in their respective journeys toward what they hope will be a long, extended postseason run.

For the Celtics, there is no better litmus test than the defending NBA champions Lakers.

And for Walker, facing the champs after having played a handful of games was a good measuring stick for where he’s at and maybe just as important, where he needs to be in order for Boston to be successful after having missed a good chunk of the season slate already while resting/strengthening his left knee.

He knows he’s not the player now that he needs to be for this team.

Still, that doesn’t diminish the competitive juices that flow through the four-time All-Star. Nor does he take any solace in his play in Boston’s 96-95 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers.

Walker had one of his worst games as an NBA player, missing 11 of his 12 shot attempts which included a potential game-winner in the closing seconds that hit the back of the rim before rolling out and into the hands of Daniel Theis. The attempted put-back by Theis was off the mark as well, although it likely would not have counted had it gone in.

“I thought I had a good look,” Walker said after the loss. “It just didn’t drop. I would have loved to have helped my teammates more tonight. I have to step my game up, at the end of the day.”

He’s right.

But unlike his days in Charlotte when he had to be a one-man scoring machine just so the Hornets would be competitive, for him to get back on track will require more help from his teammates.

Walker’s absence has been both a blessing and a burden of sorts for the Celtics.

While he was out, we had a chance to see Jaylen Brown become more than just a complimentary player to Jayson Tatum, but on many levels just as impactful to the point where it’s damn near a given that he’ll be named to his first All-Star team this season along with Tatum.

Now that Walker is returning, figuring out how to re-immerse him into the flow of the offense is a lot easier said than done considering the formula for success for this Celtics team has to be recalculated.

“We just need to do a better job of getting him involved while he’s out there,” said Jayson Tatum who led all scorers with 30 points on 12-for-18 shooting. “He’s one of the best players in the league. Once he finds his rhythm, we’ll be clicking on all cylinders.”

After the game, Celtics head coach Brad Stevens talked about how the Lakers’ approach defensively against Walker was also part of the reason he struggled.

“They paid a lot of attention to Kemba,” Stevens said. “It just wasn’t his night. We’re riding Kemba. He is a really good player who cares about his team, wants to be part of something special … sometimes it’s not your night. But more often than not, it is his night and we believe strongly in that.”

Stevens’ support of Walker is admirable.

Frankly, it’s the right thing to do after such a tough-to-swallow loss.

But dismissing this as it just being an off night, doesn’t alleviate the concerns that Celtics fans have about Walker and his left knee, the Celtics and their chances at bringing home Banner 18.

After sitting out the early stages of the season to rest his knee, Walker has been in the lineup in six of the Celtics’ last seven games.

A career 19.9 points per game scorer, Walker has had just one game in which he scored at least 20 points.

And the longer he goes with either games when he struggles to score or has a bad shooting night like what we saw on Saturday, the more validity those concerns will have.

To Walker’s credit, he’s not trying to duck away from his struggles or the role that he has personally played in them.

“It’s tough,” said Walker who acknowledged he has to be tougher mentally than he showed in Saturday’s loss. “I’m disappointed in myself personally. It’s not the first time I shot the ball badly. Like I said, I would have loved to have shot the ball better; I didn’t. I take it on the chin. I know I can be better.”

And maybe most important, so do his teammates.

“I like the shot we got,” said Jaylen Brown when he talked about Walker’s late-game miss. “I’ll take that ten out of ten times.”

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