Some thoughts about Kemba’s own Kobe gesture, Grant Williams’s value, All-Star situations, and more, as the Celtics return home from their three-game road trip.
■ Kemba Walker hit the right note in a potentially uncomfortable situation when he was asked Tuesday whether he would follow some other NBA players and honor Bryant by no longer wearing No. 8.
Earlier in the day, Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie and Magic guard Terrence Ross said they would stop wearing Bryant’s old number. They were praised for the thoughtful act, but did that mean that players who didn’t follow their lead were being disrespectful?
There can be a kind of weird, unspoken pressure put on players in situations like this when they’re asked their thoughts with cameras rolling.
Walker said that he was considering changing his number, but then pivoted a bit and made it sound like he will not.
“I definitely have tons of respect for Kobe,” Walker said. “Everybody mourns a bit different. For me, I’m thinking I’d love to honor him by wearing that number. Kobe played hard each and every night and I would like to honor him by doing the same. I am definitely thinking about it. But we’ll see.”
There is no blueprint for this, but Walker continuing to wear No. 8 certainly should not be viewed as a slight.
■ With 7 minutes 18 seconds in the fourth quarter of the 109-101 win over Miami Tuesday, Grant Williams was whistled for his fifth foul when he attempted to contest a Jimmy Butler shot near the rim. Williams tried to stay vertical but appeared to give Butler a slight bump below the waist.
The significant moment came after that, when coach Brad Stevens challenged the play. Coaches are shifting toward the belief that challenging foul calls is usually not worth it unless it is at a critical moment of the game, because it can be hard to overturn them, and even if they are overturned, it often results in just a jump ball.
Boston led, 92-81, at that point. But Stevens’s decision spoke volumes about how much he valued Williams in this game. The rookie forward was a defensive nuisance, and he gathered several key offensive rebounds.
Stevens lost the challenge, but the gesture resonated with the rookie.
“It felt kind of cool,” Williams said. “But I think it was more momentum. If we’d gotten that call, we would’ve gotten the jump ball or it would have gone the other way. But it does show trust.”
The Celtics outscored opponents by 12.7 points per 100 possessions with Williams on the court during this road trip, the highest net rating among the regulars.
■ Even though the Celtics have 36 games left, it is all but certain that they will end up in the 2-6 seeding cluster with the Raptors, Heat, Sixers, and Pacers. Now that they have two comfortable wins over the Heat in games in which they were undermanned, it’s safe to say that the Heat would be the Celtics’ preferred playoff matchup.
Miami is very talented, but its style of play is not as threatening to Boston as some of the others. Its offensive rebounding and rim protection are average, and beyond Butler, the Heat do not have the athleticism to keep up with the Celtics’ deep stable of wings.
■ Gordon Hayward’s numbers with Jayson Tatum out with a groin strain during this three-game road trip: 24.7 points, 9.7 rebounds, and 3.0 assists in 37.7 minutes per game. He made 27 of 48 shots, 6 of 14 3-pointers, and 14 of 16 foul shots.
Hayward has faced some criticism for his inconsistent play, but it’s hard to be a star when you’re generally the fourth option on offense most nights. Hayward summed up his role, and his value, after Friday’s win over the Magic.
“I think it’s one of the reasons why I am a part of this team,” he said. “I can do a lot of different things. When asked to do whatever it is, I try to do my best at it. So if that’s scoring on a different night, if that’s facilitating, if that’s playing defense, rebounding, or making winning plays, I try to do the best for us.”
■ It sounds as though Tatum is very close to returning. The Celtics should be able to win a home game against the lowly Warriors — it feels weird to type that — even without Tatum Thursday. So don’t be surprised if he sits out one more game and returns to face Philadelphia Saturday.
■ The win Tuesday kept alive the Boston coaching staff’s hopes of working the All-Star Game, although there are definitely some among the group who would be just fine having the weekend off to spend time with family. Still, the Raptors have emerged as the favorites.
The honor goes to the team with the best record in the Eastern Conference, but a team cannot be represented in consecutive years. So the Bucks, who are running away with the East, are not eligible.
With Sunday’s cutoff looming, the Raptors (33-14) hold a one-game lead over the Heat (32-15) and a 1½-game lead over the Celtics (31-15). Toronto’s three relevant games come against the Cavaliers, Pistons, and Bulls. If they win just two of them, they will lock in the All-Star nod. If they go 1-2 or worse, and the Celtics defeat the Warriors and 76ers, Stevens and his staff will be headed to Chicago. Boston holds the tiebreaker over Miami.
■ Speaking of the All-Star Game, there was some belief that Jaylen Brown’s powerful game on national television Tuesday could give one last boost to his chances of making the team as a reserve. The forward had 25 points and 5 assists and made 10 of 16 shots in an impressive road win.
But a member of the Celtics coaching staff said the deadline for coaches to submit their votes had already passed. The guess here is still that Tatum will make the team and Brown will not, but it would not be stunning if they both did.