Two minutes and seven seconds remained on the clock in last night’s Celtics-Hornets game, and Kemba Walker was tired. He had every right to be: To that point, he’d scored 40 points—18 in the fourth quarter alone—in just under 37 minutes of playing time. And these were not ordinary minutes, but rather Kemba Walker Minutes, played at the impossible gear of waterbug insanity at which he’s played just about every minute of this season, including in his 60-point explosion two nights prior.
To wit: Just in the preceding 15 seconds, as the Hornets tried to fend off a Celtics push and preserve a two-point lead, Walker had attacked two Boston defenders off the dribble, left a tough fading jumper on the front of the rim, shorted a three-pointer off the exact same spot on the rim after a Nicolas Batum offensive rebound and kick-out pass, then chased down his own rebound and kicked the ball back out to Tony Parker near halfcourt.
I got winded just watching that sequence of events, and Kemba had been playing at that bonkers pace for two hours by that point. He’d been carrying the Hornets all night, as he’s been carrying them all season, and he was gassed; after the pass out to Parker, all he could do was shamble to the corner and stand with his hands on his knees, gulping at the air.
Which left it to old-ass Tony Parker to do the shit:
And then, on Charlotte’s very next possession, while Walker once again stood in the corner, out of breath, to do the shit again!
These are classic Tony Parker buckets: short darting drives to open spots, no particularly sexy handles involved, just using those hesitation steps to tease open enough space for clean looks at calm, ice-cold pull-up jumpers, splashed through with exquisite touch. It’s lovely to see that even as a depleted 36-year-old who still looks weird out of a Spurs uniform he can still get these buckets in the closing minutes of a tight game against a good team. My favorite thing about these baskets, though, isn’t how they remind me of Young Tony Parker, but how well they show off what’s great about Old Tony Parker: the wise, decisive, perfectly timed application of his limited powers, at the exact moment his younger team and teammates needed it. It’s the most Dad-like basketball thing shy of preaching the virtues of underhanded free-throws, the expert old hand stepping in, casually and without ceremony, just long enough for the worn-out young virtuoso to gather himself, and then just as casually handing the show back to him.
Look at that violent, ecstatic hug Walker throws around Parker after that second bucket, after the Celtics call timeout. You’d have thought the crusty fucker had nailed a buzzer-beater to take Game 1 of the Finals. A few possessions later, Walker found the legs to dribble into and bury the step-back three-pointer that effectively ended the competitive part of the game, and you can’t tell me that doesn’t owe something to the two possessions Parker took in hand 90 seconds prior, while Kemba caught his breath.
Maybe it’s because I have been watching the dysfunctional, disconnected, civil-warring Wizards all season (as well as, uh, for basically my whole wasted life of basketball enthusiasm up to this point), but I am genuinely stirred by this shit, by teammates stepping in to pick each other up, and recognizing and appreciating it when that happens. Broadly speaking, the Hornets around Kemba Walker are not very good; in most respects they’re probably not worthy of his brilliance. But man, they’re trying to be, and that’s not nothing.