Few times is a doubtful designation for a game deemed a “miracle,” but that’s where the Boston Celtics find themselves with star point guard Kemba Walker.
Walker has yet to be completely ruled out for Monday’s contest against the Sacramento Kings in Boston after getting stretchered off the court and later diagnosed with a sprained neck against the Denver Nuggets on Friday night.
Walker, who was hurt on a collision with teammate Semi Ojeleye, was released from the hospital late that evening and didn’t practice Sunday but did work on an exercise bike in the unlikely case he gets the call against the Kings.
“He’s been good, and he feels good,” coach Brad Stevens said. “It’s kind of a minor miracle based on what we saw the other day. But the strain is real, and he’s got some soreness in his back and neck. That’s it.”
Losing Walker (team-high 21.1 points per game) for an extended period would have been a significant blow to the suddenly scuffling Celtics, who have lost three of four. That slump began with a 100-99 loss at Sacramento on Nov. 17 that brought a 10-game winning streak to a halt.
Meanwhile, including that victory, the Kings have won five of their last seven as they start to make noise in the Western Conference. That run of success continued with a 113-106 triumph over the Wizards in Washington on Sunday night, in which Harrison Barnes led the way with a season-high-tying 26 points.
Postgame, though, the focus was on the defense after Sacramento held high-scoring Washington to 21 fourth-quarter points in sealing the victory.
“We are getting better at our rotations, and we are getting better on the ball,” said point guard Cory Joseph. “We are getting better as a whole defensively, and I think that we just have to continue to climb because we have the personnel to do that.”
The Kings are on a four-game East Coast trip that ends Wednesday night at the Philadelphia 76ers. Sacramento hasn’t won a game in Boston since the 2006-2007 season.
Against the Nuggets on Friday, the Celtics mounted a furious comeback in the fourth to get within one after beginning the quarter down by 13 before ultimately losing 96-92. Boston will play its next two at home, where it is a perfect 5-0.
The Celtics are already without forward Gordon Hayward, who is expected out four to six weeks with a fractured left hand that required surgery two weeks ago. Hayward has begun shooting without issue as he works his way back.
“He’s great,” Stevens said. “Feeling well. He’s got some swelling where the incision was, but that’s to be expected. He’s doing a really good job. It seems like he’s on pace.”
The Kings are still without De’Aaron Fox (ankle), Marvin Bagley III (thumb) and Trevor Ariza (groin). Ariza was the only member of that trio available when Sacramento edged Boston earlier this month in a game that featured 24 lead changes and nine ties. Buddy Hield led all scorers in that contest with 35 points and seven 3-point makes.
–Field Level Media