Kemba Walker doesn’t ever want to look bad at Madison Square Garden.
The New York-raised Bobcat started playing there in high school. The touchstone of his college career was that preposterous run at the Big East Tournament that propelled Connecticut to the national championship.
Tuesday, Walker was back at the Garden and he might as well have been wearing a Huskies uniform all over again. He took apart the New York Knicks in about a zillion pick-and-rolls for a 102-97 Charlotte Bobcats victory.
Walker finished with 25 points, six assists, five rebounds and a very sore left shoulder. He left the game after colliding with burly Knicks forward Metta World Peace. After X-rays were negative on a fracture, he came right back in during the third quarter.
This is the guy coach Steve Clifford was talking about pregame when asked the biggest thing he has discovered in his first few weeks as an NBA head coach:
“Every day I’m around him, I’m more convinced he’ll be the leader of a really good (NBA) team,” Clifford predicted.
Then Walker backed up that claim on a night full of bumps and bruises for both teams. Walker collided with Knicks center Tyson Chandler early and Chandler took the worst of it, his right knee bandaged and out for the night.
Later Bobcats forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist left the game with a bloody nose, off a collision with Knicks forward Kenyon Martin. World Peace was later called for a flagrant foul for flailing his left arm at reserve point guard Ramon Sessions.
There was plenty of growling, too. Knicks superstar Carmelo Anthony (32 points) stared menacingly at Bobcats forward Jeff Taylor when Taylor took a hard foul on an Anthony drive to the basket.
This game might have been in the season’s second week, but it appeared to have stakes. The Bobcats improved to 2-2; the Knicks fell to 1-3.
The Bobcats led by as much as 13, and so much of that was Walker’s doing. Working mostly out of the pick-and-roll he hit a series of pull-up jumpers with the shot clock burning down. Infamous for shot-clock violations, the Bobcats never had a 24-second violation Tuesday.
“It means a lot,” Walker said of performing well at the Garden. “I’ve been playing here since high school. It’s always a joy. I grew up a Knicks fan. So playing here is always a little different.”
Walker guided the offense, and a platoon of Bobcats carried the defense at Anthony. He’d struggled in the Knicks’ previous two games and promised to be more aggressive. Aggressive meant 28 shots (he made 10) and getting to the foul line 10 times.
Pound for pound, Anthony might be as strong as any player in the NBA.
“That is a big, strong dude,” Taylor said of Anthony. “You just have to make him work for everything. You know he’s going to get shots and he’s going to make shots, but you’ve got to make him try for those points.”
Kidd-Gilchrist also had plenty of turns on Anthony. He relished the experience.
“I think it’s fun,” Kidd-Gilchrist said of wrestling with Anthony in the post. “I’m a little kid still, so I can’t help but think it’s fun to play against the best.”