The Celtics will have their full collection of starters available for Friday’s opener against the Bucks, at least for one half, for the first time since February 11th. Kemba Walker and the rest of the starters are ready to go according to Brad Stevens, but the All-Star point guard will be on a strict minutes limit as eases into bigger minutes heading into the postseason.
“Set in stone. 14-20 (minutes),” Stevens said of Walker’s playing time. “Kemba will be really happy with me when he hits somewhere between 18 and 20 I’m guessing (laughs). But he knows, I mean, we’ve covered it. The most important thing is his knee, his strength, you have to be able to build up appropriately. He’s done that in the last couple of weeks in practice. Maybe even a little ahead of schedule to be considering that he’s playing that many minutes in Game 1 with where we started earlier a couple weeks ago. But his strength of his knee and his ability to get in condition to play at the level that he wants to play by the time the playoffs start, this is part of the path and we’re going to stick with that.”
The slow ramp-up period is a tough pill to swallow for the normally durable All-Star but the Celtics are leaning towards a proactive stance in regards to protecting Walker’s knee for the foreseeable future in the wake of soreness that popped up earlier this month.
“Yes it’s frustrating,” Walker said of starting slow. “This is the first time I’ve ever had to go through this so yes it’s kind of tough. But I’ll get there. I know what it’s about. I know it’s about me getting better for the playoffs and being available to my teammates. I’ll be fine. I’m working every single day to get myself prepared to play big minutes in the future. So I’ll be fine. Like I said, it’s tough, but it’s something I just have to deal with.”
The short minutes limit for Walker will force Stevens into a bit of a tricky spot when it comes to managing his rotations. Rather than holding out a few minutes for Walker until the end of the game so he’s available for a potential crunch time situation, Stevens plans on using Walker's minutes early to keep him in rhythm.
“I’ll probably just play him in his minutes, and then be done,” Stevens explained. “When you try to play somebody in three-minute increments, they have no flow or rhythm to their play. At least tomorrow we'll just play him in his minutes, and it may even be by the end of the first half, and then we'll go from there with whoever is available late. But we've been fortunate, knock on wood, we're in pretty good shape otherwise.”
Walker's limited playing time should open the door for Marcus Smart to play crunch time with the starters, as well as bigger minutes for a guard like Brad Wanamaker or Romeo Langford in the second half against Milwaukee.
Bucks will be shorthanded Friday
The Celtics will get a break against the Bucks backcourt from a personnel standpoint as Mike Budenholtzer