Stings like a paper-cut…
The timing of Kemba Walker’s absence stings, like a paper-cut. Like a paper-cut though, Walker’s two nights off for a sore knee are merely a flesh wound for a resilient Celtics team this season. Kemba’s time off should also not be an omen for the Celtics in terms of injury. There is no structural damage to report in his knee, though the procedures (a draining and injection) after the All-Star game are concerning. Despite being concerning, Kemba and Kyrie Irving‘s absences feel very different for Celtics fans.
Bad Memories – Kyrie’s Best Laid Plans…
Kemba’s absences do quickly bring up bad memories for C’s fans from just last year. This is, of course, when Kyrie missed time immediately before the All-Star Break, then happily jumped in to play with Kevin Durant so they could cement their future Brooklyn plans. Kyrie then spent his post-ASG time boohooing all over Boston once he was caught discussing his future home with his best buddy. Despite the familiar feeling, the reasoning for Kemba and Kyrie’s absences are very different. Kyrie’s time off before the All-Star Game was, supposedly because he wasn’t ready physically. Though now it appears most of it was mental while in a Celtics uniform. His situation with the Celtics only deteriorated from there.
Sore Knee but No Lack of Desire
In comparison, these past two nights off for Kemba appear to be the decision of an overcautious coaching and training staff in conjunction with Kemba. If these had these been playoff games, Kemba would have been on the court. There is no questioning Kemba’s desire to be playing, his leadership, or his support for his teammates. Kemba getting this time to rest shows the Celtics management and coaching staff have confidence in the rest of the team to succeed, while also showing a new strategy, load management.
Load Management and the Realities Going Forward
The Celtics slowly and quietly jumping on the load management bandwagon along with most of the top contenders in both the East and West is not surprising. Post-All-Star Game until the start of the playoffs Tatum, Brown, Hayward, Smart, and Walker will all most likely get games off. That will be especially true in situations like the game against Minnesota, a bad team missing its superstar. These types of games can be infamous for being trap games for a team like the Celtics, but this year’s squad is different. They show a distinct resiliency to absorb other teams’ runs and not whither, almost the opposite of the 2018-2019 team.
Good Vibes – Kemba’s Influence
The main difference between last year’s Celtics squad and the current year’s roster is that this year’s team elevates themselves off of adversity and the next man up mentality. That starts with Kemba and the influence and attitude that he has brought to the team. Last year’s Celtics had no ability to let others on the team shine without jealousy building. That jealousy fed and built in the locker room, ultimately leading to an early playoff exit. The current Cs roster appears to be built for a deep playoff run, aided by the parity in the conference and league as a whole, a dynamic Robert Williams coming back from injury in a week, and a team that motivates itself off each other’s successes. The Celtics will be a dangerous match-up for anyone in a seven-game series, including Milwaukee.
Ultimately, Kemba is at the heart of this positive Celtic’s attitude and culture change. Though his nights off here and there can be hard to swallow, they sure feel a lot more bearable and a lot better than just about any night last year. Kyrie is watching the league from what I assume is some kind of odd, uncomfortable couch right now. Maybe he should take his own advice that he gave to the “kids” last year. Take out the notebook and learn a thing or two from Kemba. Kemba is about the same age difference as Kyrie was to Brown and Tatum after all. Certainly, a self-proclaimed basketball genius wouldn’t mind learning a bit more, even if the lesson does sting a bit, like a paper-cut.