WALTHAM -- By his own admission, Antoine Walker was "going crazy" watching the Celtics win Game 4 while holed up at the team hotel in Indianapolis because of a one-game suspension. A sane Walker spoke with reporters yesterday after practice, though he declined to discuss in detail his ejection in Game 3 and suspension for shoving official Tom Washington.
In his first interview since being disciplined by the league, Walker kept his comments focused on Game 5 tonight at the FleetCenter, where he will rejoin the starting lineup of a team recommitted to uptempo play and reconfigured into a smaller, quicker squad.
Walker was particularly impressed by the way the younger players stepped up in his absence. But Walker did not feel the need to thank his teammates for evening the best-of-seven series, 2-2, and regaining home-court advantage.
"I was right there congratulating them," said Walker, who met his teammates at the airport after watching the game with his high school coach and a friend. "I don't know if necessarily thanks [was appropriate]. It's a little far-fetched to say thanks.
"We got a win. We're a team, regardless. I could have played, scored no points and had a bad game and they could've pulled it out. But obviously, you want to be on the floor. I don't want to talk in depth about the suspension because it's over with now. I want to move on. It's tough [to be suspended] in playoff time. It's tough during the season. Then, I don't want to pay that money. I'm not happy about that. That's a lot of money to be losing at this time of year."
Walker joked about looking for a way to recoup the $162,500 in salary he forfeited, as dollars and cents provided a lone, lighthearted moment. The power forward was all business as he prepared to go back to work. Walker also dismissed concern he might try to do too much tonight, to cram two games into one.
"I'm fine," he said. "This is a team right now where we've got a lot of guys who know their responsibilities. I know my role and what I have to do to win in this series. In playoff basketball, it's a little bit different than the regular season. You try to stick with the game plan. Play within the game plan and everything will work out for itself."
The Celtics fulfilled their roles and executed their game plan to near perfection Saturday night, recording a 31-point win. Walker noted he didn't need a tightly-contested game to underscore his value to the team.
When asked if he wished Game 4 had been closer, the 28-year-old Walker smiled and said, ''No, I'm too old for that. I've been around too long for that. I'm just happy we won. It's the playoffs, man. It was fun to watch the guys perform the way they did under a pressure situation, see our young guys step up and play big. That was huge and we're going to need that. The series is just now beginning, to be honest with you. It's a three-game series."
Walker added: ''We played great. We moved the basketball. We got back to playing the way we're capable of playing. We had lost it for a couple of games. I think our defensive intensity was real high. I was watching guys go out there and be very aggressive. We forced the tempo. We took the ball to them. It was good to see and we're going to have to continue that as this series goes on."
Paul Pierce thought Walker's suspension might have provided the Celtics with a spark, that the team "needed a little tension, a little adversity to get going." And with a smaller lineup, off the Celtics went. Walker has no reservations about playing at a faster pace and the Celtics have no concerns about welcoming him back.
"It's good for us to have Antoine back," said Pierce. "In order for us to win this series, we're going to have to be at full strength. We played well in Game 4, but for us to go on and advance we have to be full strength and we need to have one of our veteran captains back. He's every bit a part of what we're doing out here. It just so happens we were able to get by without him in the last game. But in order for us to move on in this series, we're going to need his presence."
Boston is well aware of what can happen after a blowout victory. Following a 20-point win in Game 1, the Celtics lost Game 2. They know overconfidence is not an option this time around.
Keeping that in mind, Walker, as a veteran voice in the huddle and on the court, may be more important to the Celtics than the 15.3 points and 7 rebounds he has averaged in the first round. The veterans must set the right tone tonight, and with a little extra time to prepare, Walker sounds ready to do just that.
"We've got to work on complete game execution," said Walker. "At this point, we know what they run and they know what we run. After you play four games against each other, it's all about heart and determination, all the miscellaneous plays, diving for loose balls, offensive rebounds, all the little, small stuff in games, screening. That's what becomes important in these last three games."
After sitting out Game 4, Walker will not lose sight again of what's important in the playoffs.