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Kemba Walker is back. And he's on fire.
But he can't fix what's ailing the New York Knicks.
The recently benched All-Star was back in the Knicks' lineup for a third straight game Thursday when he scored a team season-high 44 points in front of a fired-up Madison Square Garden crowd. It was't enough to beat a Washington Wizards team that secured a 124-117 win with Bradley Beal sidelined in COVID-19 protocols. The Wizards improved to 17-15 while the Knicks dropped to 14-18 amid a 3-9 slide.
Walker is lighting up scoreboard since return from benching
Head coach Tom Thibodeau benched Walker on Nov. 29, telling reporters "it's what’s best for the team" as he moved Alec Burks into the starting lineup. Walker was then a healthy DNP for nine straight games that saw the Knicks go 2-7 in his absence. COVID-19 sidelined as many as six Knicks in recent games, prompting Thibodeau to return the four-time All-Star to the lineup against the Boston Celtics on Saturday. He has scored 29, 21 and now 44 points in consecutive games, but the Knicks are 1-2 since his return.
Kemba had MSG rocking Thursday
The Knicks looked ready to stop their slide on Thursday as Walker torched the Wizards for 28 first-half points. Before he capped the half with an acrobatic floater to secure a 63-57 halftime lead, Knicks fans serenaded him with a "Kemba Walker!" chant.
Kemba is going OFF and Knicks fans are LOVING it 🔥🔥🔥 pic.twitter.com/tbo4x4ezdW
— NBA TV (@NBATV) December 24, 2021
After a slow start to the second half, he finished the third quarter strong with 13 more points aided by the first four-point play of the Knicks season.
— NBA (@NBA) December 24, 2021
Defense, again, bites Knicks
The Wizards regularly matched his shots with big buckets of their own. Seven Wizards scored in double figures in a balanced effort with their All-Star guard sidelined. Spencer Dinwiddie led the way with 21 points and 12 assists. The Wizards shot 56% from the field and connected on 16 of 37 (43.2%) 3-point attempts.
Walker finished with 44 points, nine rebounds and eight assists while connecting on 7 of 14 3-point attempts. But no amount of offensive heroics from Walker is going to fix a defense that has struggled all season to match the efforts of last season's playoff team that finished third in the NBA team defensive rating. After Thursday's loss, these Knicks rank 23rd in the same category.