It’s been an eventful past year for Kemba Walker.
The knee injury. Rehab. In and out of the lineup. Inconsistency. By last season’s end, the Celtics no longer wanted their once-star free-agent signing, shipping him to OKC. The Thunder knew they couldn’t trade him and bought him out instead. If Sam Presti can’t spin your contract to a new destination, things have gotten very bad.
In a sense, it all worked out for Walker, who signed with his hometown Knicks. But through all those ups and downs, his stock naturally took a hit.
He’s only six feet, dealing with a knee issue, and on the wrong side of 30. You figured his All-Star days were officially over. Many couldn’t help but also wonder whether he was simply on the decline. Was his future destined to be a bench role? Could he even get healthy enough to consistently suit up for games?
Kemba’s first three games as a Knick didn’t exactly help his case, especially in convincing the more impatient people out there. He scored 10, 11, and 10 points. Never mind that New York is one of the deepest teams in the league, which explains why Walker never got more than eight shot attempts in any of those three games.
The results were what mattered, and they weren’t good. But by scoring 19 points in just 28 minutes to help the Knicks take down the 76ers on Tuesday night, Walker indicated that he still has plenty left to give on a team that certainly needed his efforts in this one.
“It was fun,” Kemba said after the win that snapped New York’s 15-game losing streak to Philly. “Hopefully I can — we can have — more moments like that. It was just such a great team win. Everybody contributed in many different ways and that’s how the game of basketball is.”
Walker had gone scoreless through nearly eight minutes of first-quarter action, causing the skepticism surrounding his abilities to creep even higher. He entered the second with 5:49 left and the Knicks up 11 and played the rest of the way, much to the delight of his teammates, the coaches, and the Madison Square Garden faithful.
10 of his 19 points came during that second-quarter stretch. They all came one after the other, a string of four consecutive makes thanks largely to Philly’s drop coverage that served as the perfect catalyst for Walker’s big night.
“I was just taking whatever came to me,” he said after the game. “The opportunities came. The big was back. I was just getting to my pull up and I was able to make some shots.”
That bucket barrage constituted a personal 10-2 run by Kemba to expand New York’s lead to 17. By halftime, New York had built a 20-point advantage, and the Bronx native got the kind of adoration he’d always dreamed of.
“I was waiting for that moment,” Walker said regarding MSG’s reaction to his second-quarter performance. “It was the kind of moment I dreamed of when I was a young kid wanting to be in the NBA, watching the Knicks play. That was a great moment for me.”
Walker was 5-of-11 from beyond the arc en route to his 19 points and also chipped in five assists to just a single turnover. He paced the Knicks in scoring and was a plus-3 on the night, leading a charge Philly never recovered from.
“I thought the way Kemba played helped set the tone,” said head coach Tom Thibodeau.
The Kemba Walker of last night might not be the Kemba Walker who shows up in Chicago on Thursday. That’s more than fine for a team that had five players score in double figures against Philly and another three score no fewer than eight.
The Knicks just need to know that level of play is still within reach. If there was any doubt, they do now. So do the Sixers. So do Knick fans and so does everyone else around the NBA.