At the Walt Disney World “bubble” the Boston Celtics have found their magic, as they completed a four-game series sweep of the Philadelphia 76ers.
After a four-month hiatus it begs the question, where did they find the magic to be able to reach this elite level? After getting a lot of grief in the offseason, general manager Danny Ainge’s moves, or lack thereof, are finally starting to pay off.
This offseason, the Celtics made some unforeseen changes as they failed to re-sign their All-Stars in Kyrie Irving and Al Horford. Nevertheless, Ainge made the move to acquire an All-NBA guard in Kemba Walker and believe in his young core led by young forwards Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
Once the Celtics started to come into their own in the bubble, a major setback occurred. One of the team’s key contributors, Gordon Hayward, suffered a grade three right ankle sprain towards the end of game one. As the Celtics leader accounted for 33.5 minutes a game, head coach Brad Stevens must adjust quickly. “Right from the minute I saw him walk off I started thinking about the whole series without him,” Stevens said. “And I just think that’s the way you have to approach it.”
Stevens approached his new depleted roster by increasing Walker’s role. Walker had been healing from a knee injury that sidelined him from January until the beginning of the bubble. Many Celtics fans and personnel were unsure of Walker’s ability to bounce back from his injury, as he put on a minutes restriction from the start of the bubble until game one of the playoffs. Although there was speculation that Walker would be a shell of his all-star self this postseason, he silenced those rumors.
In his first legitimate opportunity to contend for a title, Walker came out determined to prove the doubters wrong. He provided Boston with 24.3 points per game, leading the team in assists per game, all while playing some of the best defense of his career.
“This is the reason I came to Boston, to be able to play in the playoffs and advance, play high-level basketball, so it feels good,” Walker said.
His statistics will get the attention of any NBA fan, but it’s what Walker does that doesn’t show up on the stat sheet that makes the biggest difference for the Celtics.
After game two of this series, Tatum praised the leadership that Walker brings to the team.
“It’s huge, he just wants to win,” said Tatum. “He doesn’t care if he plays good or bad. He just wants to win. You can see that night in and night out. When we win, he’s the happiest guy on the team.”
Tatum and Brown have been nationally acknowledged as one of the best young cores in the league, but Walker has arguably been one of the biggest influences. Although Irving’s game is more skilled than Walker’s, the UConn product has shown Boston how valuable he can be as a leader.
Walker will compete in his first ever second round playoff series Thursday, Aug. 27, as the Celtics will face off against the reigning NBA champion Toronto Raptors. Similar to the Celtics, the Raptors are riding high after a sweep of the Brooklyn Nets.
While it’s unclear whether the Raptors will be able to avenge their 22-point loss to the C’s, but Celtics fans can bank on Kemba having a similar impact that was shown through the first four games of the playoffs.