SALT LAKE CITY -- The 30 hours following the Celtics-Hawks trade Thursday were a crazy, anxious, exciting time for Antoine Walker.
He struggled to keep a smile off his face while he talked about his fortune. Walker finally settled into a routine when he took the floor at the Delta Center last night as the Celtics' starting power forward. Wearing No. 88, Walker provided a strong presence on the glass and helped Boston secure a 109-102 win and snap a two-game losing skid. Walker played well despite arriving in Salt Lake City late Thursday night, and just watching shootaround yesterday morning before the league cleared him to play.
"We just kept it simple basketball and things worked out well," said Walker. "This was a big win for us. Then, obviously, to come in and play well was big for me. I've got to continue to work, continue to learn everything.
"I like our team. I didn't know we were that talented. We've got a lot of guys who can do a lot of things. That relieves a lot of pressure of a lot of guys. We can go very deep on our bench and that carries you a long way, especially when you're fighting for a playoff spot."
Although Walker said he was comfortable playing a supporting role, he led the Celtics with 24 points and 10 rebounds. Down much of the game, the Celtics entered the fourth quarter behind, 80-78, but point guards Delonte West and Marcus Banks sparked a 14-2 run with 3-pointers while Paul Pierce and Walker sat on the bench. Banks found West for the shot from behind the arc that capped the spurt, put Boston ahead, 92-82, and showed that the young backcourt combo was up to the task of replacing Gary Payton. Coach Doc Rivers said the West and Banks "were absolutely fantastic all game."
The Jazz responded and closed within 1 (103-102) on a layup by Keith McLeod with 36.6 seconds left. Rivers called a timeout to compose his players. Mark Blount ended up at the line on the Celtics' next possession and hit a pair of free throws to push Boston ahead, 105-102, with 16 seconds remaining. Free throws by Ricky Davis sealed the win.
Entering the game, Walker was conscious of keeping it as simple as possible. He did not want to "get in the way" of whatever chemistry remained on offense with Payton gone. Walker rarely struggled on offense as the Celtics pared down their playbook and repeatedly fed him in the low post.
"You know what was nice with 'Toine?" said Rivers. "We had somewhere to go in the post. That's really nice, when you can go to the post over and over again. That's something we haven't been able to do.
"We've been trying to get our guards to throw it down the post, even before 'Toine came. Now, they threw it down there and couldn't stop throwing it down there."
Added Pierce: " 'Toine really carried us offensively being that I was in foul trouble all game. That's what we need. That's why we traded for him, for matters like this. It was a great win, for us to come back being down most of the game."
Since Walker did not have time to learn any plays before tipoff, the next few days will be something of a crash course for him. But he likes the idea of giving Boston a needed low-post presence and handling the ball with regularity. He also likes the way Rivers handles the team.
"He seems like a real players' coach," said Walker. "They want to get out and run, be an up-and-down team, which is good for me. It's kind of freelance basketball a little bit, which is good. But obviously, I know Paul and Ricky are the guys who have been doing a lot of scoring and the offense goes through them. I can play off that. I can feed off that. I just want to come in and fit in. I don't want to come in and try to do anything that they haven't been doing. They've been playing .500 ball, so they've been successful for the most part. I just want to come in and add to it."
Walker knows he will have to make an impact quickly with just 26 games remaining in the regular season. He hopes his familiarity with the team will speed up the adjustment process. Walker also wants to prove he can be a valuable, long-term addition.
To that end, Walker has made his peace with the trade that sent him to Dallas Oct. 20, 2003, and with executive director of basketball operations Danny Ainge. He has moved on from that disappointment and has reached a new understanding of what is important to him now and where Ainge was coming from then.
"Change sometimes is good," said Walker. "He had a different opinion when he came in. When I got traded, me and Danny never really had a relationship. But a lot of things were said whether they were true, untrue, whatever it is. That's a part of the business and part of being a professional. But that's all under the bridge right now. I talked to Danny. I understand what he wants from me and what he expects of me. I'm looking forward to being back. The Boston Celtics are bigger than me and Danny Ainge. We're for the common cause and that's to win basketball games, and hopefully, put [title] No. 17 back in the building."
But Walker understands all that really matters are results.
"Things have to work out on the basketball court for this thing to work," said Walker. "But obviously, I hope I can be here for a long time and play with Paul and just finish out as a Celtic. You start your career somewhere [and you want to finish it there]. It's only been a year and a half and I'm back. So, hopefully, I can finish out here. That's my goal and my plan -- to be here for a long time."