After nearly three weeks of being out of the rotation, having played as a starter for the first 19 games of the season, Kemba Walker not only returned to the lineup, but started for the Knicks at TD Garden against his ex. team in the Celtics.
Whether it’s his return to the lineup or his return to the TD Garden since being traded in the offseason, the Celtics’ faithful gave the 31-year-old veteran a big round of applause when he was introduced.
Good cheer for @KembaCaminante when he returns to boston pic.twitter.com/ASpLRQ5Ruk
– KNICKS ON MSG (@KnicksMSGN) December 19, 2023
This was Walker’s first game since Nov. 26, as he was pulled out of the rotation due to the team’s play with him on the court, especially on the defensive end.
That being said, with six Knicks players in league health and safety protocols combined with Derrick Rose’s ankle injury, the 6-foot guard was the best available player on the team to step up.
Although the New York franchise lost to the Celtics in the final 114-107, it was not without a fight and Walker was a big reason for that. The Knicks were lost for most of the first half, including their biggest deficit of 16, but in the third quarter, Walker gave everyone – the Knicks and Celtics – a reminder of his impact.
Kemba has up to 24 PTS and the @nyknicks have the leadership in NBA TV 👀 pic.twitter.com/k9KOHIRwTv
– NBA (@NBA) December 19, 2023
The point guard finished with 29 points, 17 of which he scored in a red-hot scoring explosion in the third quarter. His onslaught at halftime helped the Knicks beat the Celtics 41-24 in the period and brought them back into the game.
While he was unable to conclude his big game by laying ice on the competition, after committing a late foul, Walker posted the team record plus minus (+5). That’s something, given the numbers behind why he was pulled from the lineup earlier in the season.
Not to mention the fact who committed his sixth and final foul to stop the play after Evan Fournier appeared injured.
Kemba Walker played his first game since November tonight:
He had the highest +/- on the Knicks. pic.twitter.com/aezVAzsJzr
– StatMuse (@statmuse) December 19, 2023
In the 18 games through Nov. 26, the team’s net rating with him on the court was -11.9, the worst among the great rotation players, and when he’s on the bench, the team’s net rating jumps to +3.0. . Walker’s -122 plus-under total came in at 450th out of 466 players who logged minutes in games prior to Nov. 26.
Should I play more Kemba Walker?
“I know I should be playing” Walker said after the game.
However, it’s no wonder Tom Thibodeau was cautious in his post-game remarks before committing to anything.
Tom Thibodeau on Kemba Walker’s performance:
“That’s what he’s supposed to do. He’s a professional, a great character, he played well.”
On possibly keeping it in rotation:
“We’ll see. You have to look at everything in its entirety.” pic.twitter.com/EU6OqbJj3r
– Knicks Videos (@sny_knicks) December 19, 2023
The decision to play more with Walker, at least in the near future, might not be in Thibodeau’s hands given the number of players the team has left out of league protocols.