Kemba Walker’s evening began with a thunderous ovation, and it ended with him on the bench.
This wasn’t quite the debut the Bronx native imagined. It did, however, include a victory, which is all he really wanted out of his first regular-season game at his new home.
“We just stuck together, which is the most important thing, came out with a huge win,” Walker said after the Knicks’ dramatic, 138-134, double-overtime victory at the Garden over the Celtics, his former team.
The Rice High School alum enjoyed some nice moments. He left a few Celtics defenders in his wake with his trademark crossover, and he hit three 3-pointers. The crowd gave him the loudest reaction in pregame introductions and made an “X” with both arms, an ode to his Bronx neighborhood. Every time he touched the ball in the early going, a gasp of anticipation came over the Garden.
“Energy in this building is second to none. It was unreal,” the four-time All-Star said. “I don’t even know [how it felt during introductions], so much, so much was running through my mind. Just really couldn’t believe it, just playing for the home team. I’m really a kid from The Bronx, born and raised in this city. To put that jersey on for the first time for the real regular season, and being announced, it was definitely an amazing feeling.”
But Walker struggled to close out the game, committing two costly turnovers late in regulation, and seemed to be tiring, before coach Tom Thibodeau went to Derrick Rose in the second overtime. Walker was also caught out of position on Marcus Smart’s 3-pointer at the buzzer to force overtime, in part because Evan Fournier doubled Jayson Tatum in the frontcourt, creating a three-on-two situation for Boston.
“I was a little bit disappointed towards the end of the game, just a lot of mistakes on my behalf. But my teammates saved me. They came through,” Walker said. “I was on the bench praying we won that game, man. I ain’t going to lie. I was on the bench praying we won like, ‘c’mon, please, let’s get this win.’ ”
Walker logged 36 minutes and shot 3 of 8 from the field. He had eight rebounds and three assists, but also four turnovers. There are adjustments he has to make playing with a brand new team, sometimes off the ball as Julius Randle plays the role of point forward.
This is all new for him, playing home games in the city where he grew up, in front of family and friends. Wednesday night didn’t go quite as he would’ve scripted it. But it ended with a win and included plenty of love from the large crowd.
“I felt like everybody just had my back,” Walker said. “My teammates, the city, the fans, everybody.”
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