MINNEAPOLIS — Celtics point guard Kemba Walker had his troublesome left knee drained and received an anti-inflammatory injection after returning from All-Star weekend in Chicago.
Slowed by knee pain for much of this season, Walker complained of more extensive swelling this time. He also underwent an MRI that did not reveal any structural issues, but he missed Friday’s 127-117 victory against the Timberwolves.
While the team does not believe this is a serious issue, there is a chance Walker could be sidelined for a week or two, coach Brad Stevens said.
Walker played about 32 minutes in Sunday’s All-Star Game, including all of an intense, untimed fourth quarter in which he was on the court for about 15 minutes of game time. He insisted on Friday that the game did not cause this latest setback.
“The double-overtime game [against the Clippers last Thursday], the flight, having to wake up early, be on my feet all day. It’s not much rest like everybody else got. That could’ve been part of it as well” he said. “It’s not the game specifically that’s got my knee feeling like this. It’s been bothering me for quite some time now.”
Stevens said that if the swelling had presented itself prior to the All-Star game, Walker would not have played.
Walker, who said he is “trending upwards,” said he had his knee drained many times earlier in his career with the Hornets, and that it generally responded well. He said that this recent swelling was a clear change from the soreness that has bothered him for much of this season, though.
“At first it wasn’t really swelling up, just bothering me,” he said. “But when it swelled up, that’s when it got a little bit different. Still, I don’t think it’s anything huge. I definitely think I’ll be fine and ready to go for the long run.”
Walker acknowledged that “it’s tough” to balance sacrificing games or playing time during the regular season when thinking about the larger playoff picture. But he appeared in the playoffs just twice, and never won a series, during his eight years with the Hornets.
“And at the end of the day, that’s what’s most important, being able to compete at the highest level in the playoffs and being able to feel good competing,” Walker said. “I don’t want to just be out there and just be an extra body on the floor. I want to be out there and play my game.”
Walker remained hopeful that he will be able to play against the Lakers on Sunday afternoon, but it’s unclear if he’ll have that chance.
“We also have to just decide, kind of like we did in the period before the All-Star break, does he benefit from strengthening for a week without games? Does he benefit from strengthening for two weeks without games? I don’t know what the answer to that is,” Stevens said. “That’s where he and our medical staff have to put their heads together to come up with a plan. And then we’ll follow it.”
Stevens said that there will be times the rest of the regular season when the team looks to restrict Walker’s playing time. But they also will likely look to push him a bit.
“When you get to the playoffs and you get to that time of year, we’re going to need our very best players to be able to go 40 [minutes],” he said. “So there’s got to be a balance of, you want guys to experience that a little bit, but at the same time we’ll have to determine when that is with him now.”
Walker missed the Jan. 18 game against Phoenix because of knee soreness, and his playing time was limited a bit when he came back. Then he played more than 36 minutes in three straight late January games before missing three more games due to knee soreness a few days later. Stevens indicated then that Walker’s playing time would likely be limited, and that the team would be aware of playing him too extensively throughout the regular season.
Sure enough, Walker was on the bench for a long fourth-quarter stretch in a Feb. 11 loss to the Rockets, ostensibly because of his minutes restriction. He played 45 minutes in last Thursday’s double-overtime victory against the Clippers.
Stevens said on Friday the plan that week had been to limit Walker for three games and then push his playing time a bit in the fourth. Still, he acknowledged, the team did not anticipate double overtime.
In Sunday’s All-Star Game, Walker played a bit more than 30 minutes. Generally those are relatively stress-free games, but the new fourth-quarter scoring system led to hard-fought, end-to-end action.
“I’m looking towards just getting right, getting myself together and getting healthy,” Walker said. “I just want to get back, I want to play. So that’s my main focus right now.”