At this point, there’s no doubting what Kemba Walker is capable of on a basketball court.
The man owns practically every Charlotte Hornets record, after all. Most points, most 3-pointers, most free throws, most minutes ...
So when Walker exploded for 38 points Tuesday in a 125-116 overtime win over the San Antonio Spurs, including 10 in the extra period, it wasn’t necessarily shock or awe filling Spectrum Center. Fans, Walker’s teammates, they’ve seen this all before: tough layup, fadeaway jumper, spot-up 3-pointer. Kemba being Kemba.
What was different about Walker on Tuesday actually had nothing to do with his play.
It had everything to do with his teammates. Specifically, Walker’s confidence in them to help carry the load.
“You know the ball can be in Kemba’s hands and good things are going to happen,” coach James Borrego said. “But I think what you saw tonight is Kemba trusted the young guys.”
Those young guys — rookies Miles Bridges and Devonte Graham, plus second-year wing Dwayne Bacon — have been the behind-the-scene genesis of the Hornets’ four-game winning streak.
Walker, of course, has done his part, scoring 31, 36, 15, and now 38 over that stretch. But similar numbers from the three-time All-Star haven’t always yielded wins.
The difference? At times this season, it’s been Walker dragging a corpse of a team to the brink of victory. Now, there are spry young bodies at his side, and his Herculean efforts have come alongside desperately needed help.
“He’s the All-Star, the captain of our team, he brings the ‘it’ factor most of the time. But you’ve got to have help,” Bacon said.
“I was there tonight to help him.”
Bacon finished with a career-high 24 points against the Spurs — including 4-of-7 3-pointers — none of which was bigger than his overtime dagger.
There were about two minutes left in extra time, Charlotte up by four, and Walker had scored seven straight points. He was also gassed. So when Bacon had the ball on the right wing and looked his way for an outlet pass, Walker was quick to refuse.
“I did not want that basketball, I was too tired at the time,” Walker joked after the game. “He was looking at me like, ‘Come get it,’ and I was looking at him like, ‘No. I’m not coming to get the ball, so you go and make a play.’ And he made a huge 3.”
Bacon’s 3 put Charlotte up seven, a margin San Antonio could not erase.
It was a great shot, yes. But the confidence Walker showed in a young player, speaks volumes.
“When you get a young guy out there with All-Stars, sometimes it takes a while to trust,” Borrego said. “But there was immediate trust, and I think the players — the young guys — have felt that. And now they’re responding to it.”
“They play hard, man. They just have great energy,” Walker answered.
Walker singled out Bridges — who finished with 10 points, five rebounds, and three assists — with “probably the biggest play of the game,” a late fourth-quarter block that kept the game tied at 100. Then there was Graham, whose seven assists and overtime free throws helped sealed the win.
The reality is the Hornets still face an uphill climb to steal one of the final Eastern Conference playoff berths. That likely means more superhuman nights for Walker. More 30-point games, more near triple-doubles.
But it will also draw upon the emerging relationship between Charlotte’s star and its trio of young talents: for Walker to trust them, and for them to deliver.