We’re kicking off a new feature this week on CelticsHub. Every Saturday from now on, we’ll be revisiting a classic Celtics box score (you should expect a liberal interpretation of the word ‘classic’). We’ll start off this week by picking out a silver lining from the horrific, plague-spewing cloud of black basketball death** that was the Rick Pitino years.
On January 7, 1998, Antoine Walker went off for 49 points in a 110-108 loss to the Washington Wizards. Though ‘Toine would make many more shots in his Celtics’ career (and miss even more than that), he never bettered this point total. And because it’s ‘Toine, we should also point out that he never again took this many shots in a single NBA game. Winning the NBA title with Miami in 2006 must have been nice, but on this 36-shot evening… ‘Toine was never more himself.
WASHINGTON 110 BOSTON 108
Join me after the jump and we’ll dig into this one and Walker’s debut in the NBA D-League.
There was a lot of junk on the Celtics’ roster this night.
But even after the fruitless tankfest the year before that failed to land Tim Duncan, with Walker still young and in possession of an incredible variety of skills for a player his size (I remember comparisons to Magic Johnson), there was legitimate reason for excitement. The Celtics had a very young Chauncey Billups under their control, soon-to-be defensive stalwart Bruce Bowen off the bench, and some guy named Paul Pierce on their draft horizon that June. It’s not unreasonable to believe that had the Celtics played their cards right, they could have been a championship-quality team a few years down the road.
Of course, we all know how that turned out.
More notes from the box score:
- All three guys at the 5-spot that night (Pervis Ellison, Andrew DeClercq and Travis Knight) were borderline at best. In fact, here’s a question – if they were around today, in the same form as on that January night, would you give them any of Semih Erden’s minutes? Keep in mind Ellison was the first overall pick in the NBA draft, and Erden was the last. That there’s even a comparison to be made speaks to how much of a crapshoot big guys are in the draft. For every sure thing, there are a dozen that wash out.
- Speaking of which, here’s an awesome fact about Knight: he holds the NBA record for fastest foul-out in a game, somehow racking up six fouls in six minutes in the 1999 playoffs. Here’s a less awesome one – despite the fact that his main skill was being tall and having six fouls to give, Knight somehow extracted a 7-year-contract from Pitino.
- Note too, that not only did the Wizards win this game, but they outscored (outrostered?) the Celtics 2-1 on future NBA Analysts. The Wizards lined up with Chris Webber and Tim Legler, while the Celtics only had Bowen.
Interestingly enough, Billups and Walker were both involved in terrible trades, although they happened almost a decade apart and were masterminded by different GMs, one of whom displayed a legendary impatience with his personnel and a comical reliance on a college-style trapping defense and the other of whom is Danny Ainge.
- Pitino shipped Billups off to the Toronto Raptors halfway through his first year in the league. He got Kenny Anderson in return, a serviceable point guard/career underachiever, but hardly worthy of Billups, not just in light of the fact that Chauncey became a star in the league but because he was the third overall pick and you don’t trade the third overall pick when he’s only played 51 games for your franchise.
- Soon after Ainge took over the Celtics, he moved to get rid of Walker, whose early promise in the league had given away to inefficient volume shooting and an allegedly toxic sense of propriety over the team. Ainge unloaded Walker and Tony Delk on Dallas for Raef LaFrentz, Chris Mills, Jiri Welsh and a first round draft pick. Lafrentz’ contract ran for another 6-years and $69M, wreaking cap havoc on the Celtics and violating the prime GM directive: don’t give away assets for nothing (in my book, acquiring LaFrentz counts as a shade less than nothing). And yes, by that point, the smart observer saw how limiting Walker was as a featured piece on a team, but his stock had not completely crashed, and Ainge’s move to get rid of him felt Pitino-esque in its impatience.
As we all know by now, Antoine Walker is trying to battle his way back from financial and basketball oblivion. It’s hard to wish him anything but success in that endeavor. Though he never fully capitalized on his talent, he always displayed a certain pride at wearing the green and white and connected strongly with the New England fans. Last night, Walker put up 13 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists (sounds like good Antoine, doesn’t it?) for the Idaho Stampede of the D-League. Whether or not he can slip onto an NBA roster in a 10th man role remains to be seen, but personally, I’m hoping he does. It’d be interesting to see ‘Toine step back onto the Boston floor one more time, no matter what uniform he was wearing.
Additional Antoine Walker Coverage:
- Over at nba.com, Steve Weinman sorts through his own Antoine Walker memories. An excerpt:
In an era of misery for Celtics fans – Walker’s rookie year marked the second of six straight losing seasons devoid of playoff appearances – ‘Toine brought an energy for the game that manifested itself in his level of effort and presence on the court. Some of that energy may have been misguided, but Walker was literally always there. Of his first 10 non-lockout NBA seasons, Walker played less than 77 games zero times, leading the league in total minutes once and logging more than 40 minutes per night three times. His occasional big shots and exaggerated shimmy dances thereafter provided what little flair for the dramatic and swagger the Celtics had. While he went through rough patches with the coaches, with the team, with Celtics fans, he always played hard and was always a threat to do something…interesting, at the absolute minimum. Or to pour in 30-plus points, which he did 60 times as a Celtic.
More later on today as we get ready for Celtics-Bobcats.
**To this day, I suspect Pitino was a Laker double-agent.