For Celtics guard Kemba Walker, advancing to East finals ‘a special feeling’
Kemba Walker, the Boston Celtics’ veteran star guard, walked off the court inside the NBA bubble, the fake crowd noise completed faded, and howled.
“Let’s ... go,” he screamed with an expletive.
It felt so good to say a word so bad that after a beat, he did it again.
Walker was not the best Boston player in the Celtics’ ugly 92-87 win in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, but he just might’ve been the happiest.
After starring and scoring with the mostly hapless Charlotte Hornets, Walker is about to compete in the Eastern Conference finals, by far the most important professional basketball of his career.
“I’ve been in the playoffs two times before this. …The last time I was in the playoffs was five years ago. To be here in my first year [with Boston], accomplish this, make it to the Eastern Conference finals and play against a really good Miami Heat team — we have a chance.
“… It’s big time. It’s a special feeling for me.”
Jayson Tatum’s 29 points helped the Boston Celtics beat the defending NBA champion Toronto Raptors 92-87 in Game 7 to earn a spot in the East finals.
With two chances to close out the Raptors, Walker largely stunk. In the Game 6 loss to Toronto, he scored only five points, the fewest he’d scored in a playoff game, on two-for-11 shooting. He didn’t get a whistle and missed what could’ve been a series-clinching basket.
The rhythm on offense wasn’t much better Friday night. Walker missed his first four threes before canning one right at the start of the fourth quarter, a shot that had Celtics assistant general manager Mike Zarren flailing in his courtside chair.
It was a big shot, but it also speaks to the way his team feels about him. He scored eight of his 14 points Friday in the fourth quarter, helping extinguish the never-say-die Raptors.
Walker, 30, is regarded as one of the NBA’s good guys, and in his first year with the Celtics, while fighting off knee issues, he happily has taken on a lesser role at times to let teammates Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown flourish.
Tatum led the Celtics in points, rebounds and assists, while Brown went 10 for 17 from the field to follow up a tough night shooting in Game 6.
Given a chance to make history, the Clippers instead gave life to the idea they might repeat it with a 111-105 loss to the Nuggets on Friday night.
For the Celtics, it will be their third trip to the conference finals in the last four postseasons.
“We’ve been really spoiled here the last few years, getting a chance to do this ... so I’m really happy for him. He deserves to experience this,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said of Walker. “He’s everything that’s good about basketball. He loves the game, he’s a great teammate and he doesn’t care if he gets any of the glory.
“He’s just a special guy.”
Walker’s postgame facial covering couldn’t hide his smiles. Wearing a shirt paying tribute to Kobe Bryant, he continued to glow, basking in playoff victory and excited about the challenges ahead.
“It feels good to play meaningful basketball,” Walker said. “We have a special group. It’s just a really unreal feeling.”
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