On the Celtics’ first possession of their game against the Pacers on Tuesday, point guard Kemba Walker caught a pass at the top of the key, used a Daniel Theis screen and took two quick dribbles inside the arc, where he found himself with a wide open 20-footer that he has hit so many times in his career.
It was a great chance for Walker, who has been mired in a shooting slump, to start his night with a made shot and see where things went from there. Instead, the ball barely grazed the front of the rim, and it turned out to be a harbinger, as he made just 3 of 12 shots and 2 of 8 3-pointers and scored 11 points in Boston’s tense 114-111 win.
The All-Star point guard is now mired in one of the worst offensive ruts of his career. He has not shot above 38.5 percent in a game since going 10 for 24 in the Jan. 26 loss to the Pelicans. Walker has played in 10 games during this stretch and he missed the other nine due to left knee soreness. Over those 10 games he has made just 31.6 percent of his shots overall.
“We know, obviously, Kemba is fighting that knee,” Celtics guard Marcus Smart said. “He’s still trying to get his rhythm. It’s hard before when you’re on a time limit that Kemba’s on. But we know what Kemba can bring to this team, what he does bring to this team, and what a 100 percent healthy Kemba brings, so he has a little bit of time right now. We’ve got such a deep core of guys where he doesn’t really have to rush to be back as if he was in Charlotte. That helps him a lot. His shot’s going to fall. We’re not worried about that.”
Walker said that his left knee has felt much better since his return and that he is not in any pain. Initially, the Celtics thought it was a challenge for Walker to find a groove when facing a minutes restriction. While the Celtics still do not intend to play him 40 minutes very often — if at all — over the rest of the regular season, he is playing more than 30 again, but the rust remains.
“It's tough for me, because I know I can make those shots that I'm taking,” Walker said. “At the moment it's not falling but this is not the first time I've had a stretch like this in my career when I haven't been playing so well. But I'll be better.”
Walker does not have his usual burst, and his confidence appears to have been dented by this downturn that the Celtics believe will be temporary. The hope is that it will take just one of his signature high-scoring nights for him to find his groove again.
After Tuesday night’s quiet performance that also included a missed free throw in the final minute, Stevens remained upbeat and focused on the law of averages.
“That's great for us, because it means that he's going to make a bunch in a row at some point,” he said. “That's just the way it goes. He's a great player. The shots that we got were great.”
Celtics put off game decision
With the NBA still grappling with how to react to the coronavirus, the Celtics made no formal announcements Wednesday regarding the possibility of playing Friday’s game against the Wizards at TD Garden without fans, or possibly even postponing the game.
Earlier, the Warriors announced that they will not allow fans at their home game against the Nets on Thursday, and the NCAA announced that the NCAA tournaments will be played without fans, too.
The Celtics provided this statement on Tuesday night: “We have been working closely with the NBA, TD Garden and national and local health officials, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in employing best practices to ensure the health and safety of our fans, players, and staff. These measures have been and will continue to be implemented at TD Garden, the Auerbach Center, and other team spaces and events. We will continue to work closely with all relevant officials to monitor the situation.
“Additionally, in accordance with CDC recommendations, we advise people to observe best hygiene practices, including washing hands with soap and water, utilizing hand sanitizer, and limiting interpersonal contact. Anyone feeling any symptoms of illness should avoid attending public gatherings.”
ESPN reported Wednesday night that during a board of governors conference call with league officials, the consensus among owners was that the league should either play games without fans in attendance or take a hiatus. A decision is expected as soon as Thursday.
Brown doubtful for Bucks
Celtics forward Jaylen Brown (hamstring) is listed as doubtful for Thursday’s game against Milwaukee. Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo (knee) practiced on Wednesday and is questionable.
Adam Himmelsbach can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @adamhimmelsbach