Kemba Walker was candidly honest in his postgame assessment of his play in the Celtics’ heartbreaking 117-114 Game 1 overtime loss to the Heat on Tuesday night.
“I’m just playing terrible to be honest,” Walker said after shooting 6-of-19 from the field. “Not much I can say but I have to be better. I have to do better for this team on both ends of the floor, have to make better decisions, just have to make shots overall.”
The shooting part of that comment is where most of the attention will be on Walker after Game 1 and it’s for good reason. Walker shot below 32 percent for the third consecutive contest in Game 1 and this time there wasn’t a box-and-1 zone to explain his struggles. He missed plenty of open looks, particularly from 3-point range (1-of-9) where he’s shooting a horrific 5-of-36 from deep over his past five games (13 percent).
“They’ve got great athletes out there,” Brad Stevens said of Walker’s scoring woes. “I think the guys that -- some of the guards are able to keep in front with their length and then Bam was switching a ton of pick-and-rolls all day. Bam’s a tremendous defender. So we’re going to have to figure out, again, better ways to attack.”
The Heat, just like the Raptors, clearly made a point of not letting Walker get into a scoring rhythm by throwing double teams at him at various points all night. Walker missed plenty of open shots though too, which is worrisome in itself since the All-Star seemed to lack some of the burst to get by defenders that he had earlier in his postseason. The Celtics need him to be better offensively to win this series and odds are he will be.
However, the poor shooting actually wasn’t the most damaging part of Walker’s game on Tuesday night. The Celtics were fully in a position to overcome another dud from Walker just like they did in Game 7 against the Raptors. However, they weren’t in position to overcome his subpar play on the defensive end of the floor.
The Heat had been picking on Walker defensively all night and that’s no surprise given his size limitations. He fights hard, usually makes smart choices and does his best to hold his own in tough spots, something he did on numerous occasions in this game.
However, with the game on the line at the end of regulation on Tuesday night, Walker made choices that brought back memories of a guy who left Boston in shame last postseason. For three critical moments, Walker lacked focus or good decision making and it opened the door for the Heat to eventually take the win.
“I have to do better for this team on both ends of the floor, have to make better decisions.”
Celtics lead 105-100 with 1:09 left in regulation.
Walker had just made a tough floater over Jae Crowder, giving the C’s a five-point lead with just over a minute remaining.
It was a big shot for a guy who had struggled all night amid some horrific crunch-time offense (more on that later) but Walker was feeling good. He thumped his chest as he ran down the floor after the make in a largely casual home run trot. He was far from the only Celtics to do this in this spot but he was the one who got burned for it. Meanwhile, watch how Erik Spoelstra is motioning to get the ball in quickly and catch the Celtics sleeping.
The Heat took the cue from their head coach and got the ball back down the floor quickly. Walker found his man Herro but he found himself off balance as he tried to cut his angle to the paint.
Herro took a few dribbles over to his right as Walker closed and Marcus Smart tried to provide some additional support from the backside as he recovered to his man (Goran Dragic). Walker however had already engaged Herro so Smart saw no reason to pull off a tough outright switch. Walker failed to realize this and opted to move towards Dragic on his left for a split second, likely figuring Smart was there to help with Herro. He guessed wrong, leaving Herro all alone for a second and that’s all he needed. He drilled the jumper. A quick 3 in just seven seconds quickly trimmed the Celtics lead to two.
Walker got the ball next time down the floor in what ended up being Boston’s most dismal offensive possession of the night. Walker had Jae Crowder 1-on-1 and couldn’t gain separation off the dribble. He was blocked by Crowder as the shot clock expired, wasting another Celtics possession, something that was plentiful in the final three minutes of this game. Far too much isolation play saw Boston settling for tough shots that led to their lead shrinking away.
“I think obviously switching has something to do with it but we need to handle it better, there’s no question about it,” Stevens said of all the isolation play. “Not only was there probably too much pounding of the ball there was also not as much space the way that they were guarding. So we need to do a better job of that. We’ll go back and look at different ways that we can attack better at the end of the game.”
Walker obviously doesn’t hold all the blame for these poor possessions. Some of it falls on Stevens for not calling out a play besides an isolation and Jayson Tatum (2-of-10 FG in 4th qtr/OT) overshadowed a great night with poor shot selection down the stretch. In the final 2:30 of regulation, the only time an offensive player other than Tatum or Walker touched the ball was on Jaylen Brown’s offensive rebound and a Marcus Smart kickout. It was pick-and-rolls and passing between Walker and Tatum for 2.5 minutes and it was ugly. Boston’s final assist of the game came with 2:54 in regulation.
Despite all this, the Celtics still were in position to win even after Walker’s miss. They needed one more stop in regulation and then free throws could seal it from there. Once again, Walker failed to deliver.
Celtics lead 105-103
39 seconds remaining in regulation