Now, this was the Kemba Walker the Knicks have been waiting for.
After struggling his first three games as a Knick, the Bronx-born Walker finally looked at home at Madison Square Garden. Walker scored team-high 19 points to help lead the Knicks to a 112-99 win over the 76ers Tuesday.
Walker came to life in second quarter when he knocked down shot after shot to push the Knicks to a 20-point halftime lead over a 76ers team that has the potential to contend for a title. Walker scored 10 points on 4-for-4 shooting that included making two three pointers.
Walker finished with 19 points He shot 7-for-1, which included going 5-for-8 from the arc.
"Tonight, I was just taking whatever came to me," Walker said in his postgame interview on the court. "I hit some big shots. It was really exciting."
The performance stood in stark contrast to what he had done so far this season. Entering Tuesday night’s game, Walker was averaging just 10.3 points while making 45.8% of his shots in 25.7 minutes. The Knicks were also outscored by 17 points in his 77 total minutes on the floor, which was the worse plus-minus on the team.
That pretty much led Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau benching his starting guard in the fourth quarter of the first three games as backup point guard Derrick Rose had the best plus-minus on the roster. It also led to Thibodeau being repeatedly questioned about whether he was worried about Walker, whom the team signed along with Evan Fournier in the offseason in the hopes that they could push the team to the next level.
Before Tuesday’s game, Thibodeau gave Walker a vote of confidence when asked if he thought it was important that he got his game going.
"You don’t do it individually. You do it collectively," Thibodeau said. "We need everyone to play well so it’s not falling on Kemba. Kemba is a good player. We know that. We’re still finding our way . . . The offense, I’m pretty confident we’re going to be able to score a lot of points."
Walker had said after his first game at Madison Square Garden — a double-overtime win over Boston where he scored just 10 points — that he was a little disappointed in his play. It appeared that Thibodeau also was disappointed in the Knicks loss to Orlando Sunday night. Thibodeau did not play Walker in the last eight minutes of that game.
"Like our team, he’s had some good moments,’ Thibodeau said of his first three games. "There’s been some moments not as good as he can play. But our team, we get in a situation and we’re searching."
There as little searching for the Knicks in the second half last night as they maintained a double-digit lead from halftime on.
The loss was an ugly one for the 76ers (2-2), who were again without Ben Simmons. A max contract player, Simmons has yet to suit up for the 76ers after a tumultuous summer where there was a war of words as well as trade rumors and trade requests. There is no set date for Simmons return as he has recently told his coaches and teammates that he is not in the right place mentally to return.
The Knicks (3-1) picked up another quality win over a playoff team. There only dud this season was the loss to Orlando. It’s hard not to be encouraged by the way they bounced back from that. Or the way Walker finally stepped up.
For Walker, it was a thrill to have a big game on his home court.
"It was amazing," Walker said. "Hearing the crowd going crazy. This is a dream."