INDIANAPOLIS — Kemba Walker was on the floor of Bankers Life Fieldhouse before the Celtics’ matchup with the Indiana Pacers Sunday taking jumpers and working on his free throw shooting. It was a sign of progress for the point guard, who underwent a stem-cell injection in his left knee in October.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens diffused notions of Walker coming back in the next few weeks, as he said the team will take a cautious approach, designed to keep Walker healthy for a potential long playoff run.
“There is no update that I’ve received, other than he’s progressing,” Stevens said. “He won’t be back any time soon. We’re hopeful to get him back as soon as possible but we want to make sure that when we do, it’s for good. So I think that’s the most critical thing from our standpoint.”
The Celtics have been using newcomers Jeff Teague and rookie Payton Pritchard at point guard to spell Marcus Smart in Walker’s absence.
“You can see how we miss [Walker],” Stevens said. “When we go back and put together clips of things we haven’t covered, things that we’d like to do differently, he’s in all of them. So we’ve got to figure out a way to be the best versions of ourselves until he gets back.”
Credit to both Nates
The Pacers fired coach Nate McMillan shortly after their playoff elimination at the hands of the Miami Heat, replacing him with Toronto assistant Nate Bjorkgren. Stevens was asked about the differences in approach between last season’s Pacers and this unit. After Sunday’s win, Indiana point guard Malcolm Brogdon called Bjorkgren a “genius” because of his adjustments.
“I think that this could come off wrong; Nate Bjorkgren is a good coach, he’s got a lot of good things that they’re doing,” Stevens said. “At the same time, everything that Nate McMillan put in place here is showing itself true in a lot of ways. I think we all recognize how good of a coach he was. The way that their physicality, effort level, the cutting, the screening, the execution, I think that was in place.
“I credit Nate Bjorkgren and his staff for recognizing that because that sometimes isn’t done in coaching changes. There’s a lot that’s going well here. It wasn’t Nate McMillian’s fault that [Domantas] Sabonis and [Victor] Oladipo missed playoff series, otherwise maybe it would have been a different scenario.”
In play, most of the time
Stevens is trying to control the hype surrounding Pritchard, who has already etched a bench role and averaged 7.7 points in the first three games, including 13 Sunday that included a 5-for-5 shooting performance. Stevens said he is encouraged by Pritchard’s production but offered a joke about the rookie’s propensity of stepping out of bounds.
Of Pritchard’s five turnovers this season, three have been by catching passes with his heels out of bounds.
“Most important, he stays inbounds about 85 percent of the time,” Stevens joked. “That’s pretty impressive for a young guy. Hopefully we’ll get the other 15 percent. He’s a good player and will be a good player for a long time. I don’t want to overdo it. The rookie-hype train can sometimes be a good thing, sometimes be a bad thing. He just needs to keep playing, get better and try to catch the ball inbounds.”
The Pacers welcomed back Oladipo, who missed Sunday’s game because it was a second of a back-to-back, and Edmond Sumner, who returned Tuesday after missing Sunday’s game because of an illness … The Celtics on Wednesday will face the Memphis Grizzlies, who will be without reigning Rookie of the Year Ja Morant, who will miss 3-5 weeks with a sprained left ankle sustained in Monday’s win over the Brooklyn Nets. The Grizzlies managed to beat the Nets (who were without Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving) without Morant for most of the second half to earn their first win … Smart, who banged his shoulder late in Sunday’s loss, was back in the starting lineup.