Kemba Walker and the Boston Celtics entered the NBA bubble in third in the East, looking to hold onto that position and find their rhythm by the time the playoffs roll around.
For the most part, the Celtics are healthy, although they’re bringing Walker along cautiously to ensure his knee soreness doesn’t become a setback come playoff time. On Tuesday night, Walker saw his minutes restriction bump up to 27 minutes against the Heat, but Boston dropped their second game of the restart in a tight 112-106 loss. That result makes the rest of the bubble important for seeding purposes, with Miami closing in on the 3-seed. But mostly, the next five games will still be all about gaining that rhythm for when the playoffs begin.
Prior to their opener, Walker spoke with Dime over the phone last Thursday on behalf of BODYARMOR — he’s among seven new athlete partners with equity joining the brand — about how he’s feeling, the balance of preparing for a season while trying to do what’s best for his body, why he thinks the Celtics chemistry bodes well for them getting things on track pretty quickly despite the long layoff, what’s impressed him most about Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, how his training and nutrition regimen has changed over the years, and more.
First, how is your knee feeling as you get ready for tomorrow’s opener?
The knee is feeling good and I’m feeling good as well. I mean, just ready to go and finally get back on the court with my teammates. So, yeah, everything’s good.
What has it been like in getting back on the court and trying to gear up for the season after four months away while also balancing that you’re keeping your body right and making sure you don’t do too much too quickly?
It’s been okay. It’s been okay. It’s just doing things the smart way. That’s really what I can say, there’s not really much to it. I’m still getting my work in at the same time, you know, being smart about it. You just gotta be efficient with your work at this point, but, yeah, it’s a little different because guys aren’t used to playing at this point and time. But, yeah, it’ll be okay. We’ll get it back and get into rhythm and it’ll be pretty normal.
How have practices looked to you and do you feel the team is in a good place since you open with a big game against Milwaukee?
Yeah, I think everybody’s in a good place. I felt the practices have been great. Our practices have been really great. They’ve been super competitive. I think guys are getting in great rhythm right now, and guys are just ready. The game has been gone for so long and guys are just ready to get back out there and compete again.
We talked back at All-Star and you mentioned how you felt comfortable from the start with this team and that made it easy for you to find a groove early. Is that an advantage you think for this team, this apparent ease with which you guys fit together chemistry-wise, coming off a long layoff with a pretty short run up to the playoffs now?
For sure. Yeah, we’re definitely very comfortable with each other and we really enjoy playing with each other. I definitely think that makes it easy as far as the transition and us being here in Orlando, and trying to get back on track at kind of a faster pace. I think because of our chemistry and how well we get along that’ll help us get back on track a little bit faster.
You have two young teammates in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown who have both taken steps forward this season. What has impressed you the most about those two in your first season playing with them?
I think the thing that impressed me the most is who they are off the court. Especially at such a young age and the way they carry themselves, just two very mature young men. It’s kind of really great and refreshing to be around two young superstars with their personalities and their humility and knowing their work ethic and overall love for the game. It’s just really cool to be around that.
You’re now working with BodyArmor, how did you get involved with them and why were they a brand you wanted to partner with?
I mean, BodyArmor is a really cool brand. They have a super impressive roster of athletes, and just a better for you sports drink. There’s not a lot of sports drinks out there that have really great ingredients in their stuff, and BodyArmor does. And now more than ever, athletes like myself are paying more attention to what we put in our bodies, and that’s why a brand like BodyArmor resonates with me and so many other athletes. And I love it because it keeps me hydrated throughout the whole day, and it tastes great, which is a major key.
How different is your training and recovery program now compared to when you came into the league?
Ha, man. You know what, I had some great vets on my team when I was young and I was very fortunate to get a chef like my second year in the league, but my first year in the league it was pretty bad. It was pretty bad. You know, you’re a young guy coming out of college and you don’t know about eating healthy and drinking healthy drinks and stuff of that nature. So, yeah, it’s like night and day now compared from my rookie year up until now.
What were the things that led to that transition? You mention you had great vets, but they talk about the rookie wall, was there a point where you really recognized, like, ‘Wow, I’ve gotta get my body right and get my body in shape for 82 games and hopefully playoff games?’
Yeah, I mean, I think for me, I came in during the lockout year, so there were times where we played back-to-back-to-backs. So we played three straight games. Now we have back-to-backs, but we had three straight games sometimes. So, man, like, the guys I was going up against and the guys I had to guard, there were just times where I was super, super tired, and a lot of it came from the food or the stuff — the juices or like soda I drunk the night before. So I had to be more conscious about what I put in my body, and that’s definitely why BodyArmor is a great partner for me. Just going back to what I’m trying to get done.