NBA: Boston Celtics at Denver Nuggets

Celtics guard Kemba Walker lies on the floor with a concussion following a collision with teammate Semi Ojeleye in the second quarter of Boston’s 96-92 loss to the Denver Nuggets at the Pepsi Center in Denver on Friday. Walker was taken off the court on a stretcher but was able to return home to Boston with his teammates.

FORTUNATELY, it wasn’t as bad as it looked.

If your Friday night included seeing Kemba Walker lying on the floor and not moving before being strapped to a board — or if you saw it via replay a thousand times later — you had to think the newest Celtics hero was in serious trouble. He just wasn’t moving.

Then came word that he was suffering from concussion symptoms — never great news but more than welcome in light of what it could have been.

After the game, head coach Brad Stevens said he’d spoken to his player in the ambulance and that things were not dire.

Finally, word came from the Celtics that Walker would be released from the hospital in time to join his teammates for the flight from Denver to Boston.

Thinking about what happened, you had to wonder how stuff like this doesn’t happen more often. Walker, running/stumbling with his head down ran headfirst right into teammate Semi Ojeleye. How do 10 physical specimens playing a game at a high rate of speed NOT get hurt like this more often?

Thankfully, they don’t, and it looks like Walker — who has ridden into town as a new hero while the old one, Kyrie Irving, gets trashed on an hourly basis — will be OK and will miss games, not the feeling in his legs.

“He’s a leader,” said teammate Jaylen Brown. “He’s probably the smallest dude on the court every time he steps out, but he’s got the biggest heart.”

No return

Speaking of Irving, labeled NOT a leader, he will NOT make his return to Boston with the Nets this week because of a shoulder injury that has people saying he’s faking it so he can miss a trip to play his two old teams — the Celtics and Cavs — and the other New York team, the one he spurned, the Knicks. Sorry, I’m just not buying it — I think the guy is hurt.

Paul Pierce clearly wanted the theater of a return. “This is Boston, folks,” Pierce said on ESPN. “When you tell these fans, ‘Hey, I’m going to re-sign. I’ll be back, I’m here for the long run.’ And then you turn around and leave a sour taste in the organization’s lap and fans — this is going to be one of the loudest boos in league history.

“This has never happened, a player of his caliber saying, ‘I’ll be back,’ and then leave. This has never happened. When has that happened with a player of his caliber? It’s never happened. He deserves it.”

Another former Celtic, Kendrick Perkins, took it a step further on Twitter, saying, “Kyrie looked at the schedule before the season started and planned this whole injury thing because he didn’t want to go back to Boston this upcoming week!!! He didn’t want that smoke in the Bean Town. Smh”

By the way, Irving has already missed four games with his shoulder injury. That’s a whole lot of PLANNING.

Celtics President Danny Ainge defended Irving on The Sports Hub this week and said Irving doesn’t deserve to hear boos. “He gets blamed for a lot of the sour of last year, and I just think it’s much, much bigger than that,” Ainge said. “So, I don’t have any grudges against Kyrie. I’m grateful that he gave us a chance and it didn’t work out. It wasn’t his fault things didn’t work out. It was a lot of people’s fault, including my own.”

Coming back

Walker going down clearly stunned the Celtics, who finished the first half with 34 points Friday night and appeared to be on their way to a loss. Instead, they rallied and came close to winning the game against a good team. Mark this down as a team bonding experience — for a team that’s showing real positive signs, even without Gordon Hayward.

“The guys that are holdovers here, those guys are warriors. They’re warriors,” Stevens said.

And that experience included ugliness over an incident involving Marcus Smart and a fan. Smart wound up with his body in the front row chasing a loose ball and when his foot got caught in a chair, he had trouble getting out. Then, some yahoo insulted him.

“My foot got stuck in a chair and a fan told me, ‘That’s right, stay on the ground, get on your knees,’” Smart said. “Excuse me? You know what I’m saying. I just told him, ‘Listen, just watch the game,’ because, if we retaliate to you guys, or we were on the street, you probably wouldn’t say that. I guarantee you wouldn’t say that because we’re grown men just like you.”

Smart got no help from arena security, even after pointing the idiot out.

“They didn’t do anything about it,” he said. “Just gotta move on. But that’s a problem in the league that we gotta fix because, if we retaliate to protect ourselves, we’re the ones getting in trouble, They’re not. That’s not right. We got kids, some of us got our kids, their wives, girlfriends, parents watching this game, and for you to talk like that, there’s just nowhere in this league for it. We out there playing and you guys are coming to watch it, we respect you guys, all we’re asking is to respect because, if we were on the street, it would be handled differently.”

On the report

Limited participation. Questionable. These were the words that followed Tom Brady and his sore right elbow onto the Patriots injury report after Friday’s practice.

Mark it down: Brady will play against the Cowboys late Sunday afternoon as the Patriots look to go to 10-1.

It says here the real problem won’t be with Brady, but with his banged-up receiver corps. Phillip Dorsett hadn’t cleared concussion protocol and Mohamed Sanu was likely out with an ankle. Julian Edelman isn’t healthy but he’ll be there. But Rob Gronkowski, Josh Gordon and Antonio Brown also will not.

That’s a lot of talent to be without against a decent opponent.

And in the latest Brown update, word surfaced Friday that the Patriots are NOT interested if and when he’s reinstated.

Tackle Isaiah Wynn returns to the field Sunday. Offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia said, “Right now, what we’re seeing is a guy who’s completely healthy, stronger than he’s been. We thought he was a good player when we went into the season. We think even that much more of him now. We think we’ve got a guy who’s completely healthy.”

Here and there

• The Hall of Fame ballot, the one with Derek Jeter on it for the first time, has arrived. More on that in future columns, but, yes, I will again vote for Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds. …

• I can’t remember who said it, but I agree with it: I see a lot of Gronk in Nikola Jokic. …

• Gerrit Cole a Yankee? Ex-Yank Mark Teixeira isn’t so sure, saying, “Playing in New York is not for everybody. And maybe Gerrit Cole will thrive in New York. But if you told me, as the top free agent on the market, and I’m a West Coast guy and the Dodgers and Angels are sitting there drooling over me, I’m probably going to look there before I look at the Yankees. The question is, if the Yankees did something crazy and got to $350 million or $400 million dollars, then you almost can’t turn it down, right? I think money being equal, he’s not going to the Yankees. If the Yankees completely blow everyone out of the water, then he’ll end up in pinstripes.” …

Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask after his ridiculous save on Buffalo’s Evan Rodrigues on Thursday and the Sabres forward saying it could be the save of the year: “Could be. I don’t make highlights too often like that. It’s fun to make a save like that. It’s just one of those instinct saves.” …

• Friday night in Philadelphia featured a matchup of Ben Simmons, who made the first 3-pointer (in 18 attempts) of his career a few nights earlier, against mid-range machine DeMar DeRozen, the only player in the league averaging 20 points per game without a trey this season. Neither guard attempted one in this game, DeRozen was 0-for-4 on the season after going 7-for-45 last year (he’s hit as many as 89 in a season). Celtics rookie Grant Williams missed a pair in Denver and is 0-for-19 in his young career. …

• Ken Griffey Jr. turned 50 this week, leading MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince to tweet: “According to AARP standards, Junior is now a Senior.” …

• Jimmy Garoppolo is riding a bit of a roller coaster with the 9-1 49ers. Take his last four games: in the first two he was 40-for-57 with six touchdowns and an interception. Then came a 24-for-46 with one TD and one pick in the Niners’ first loss of the dream season. Last week, he had a slow start and did throw two picks, but he was 34-for-45 for 424 yards and four touchdowns. …

• Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic says, “Rival executives remain skeptical the Red Sox will get an acceptable trade offer for right fielder Mookie Betts, knowing he is entering his final year of club control, projected to earn $27 million to $28 million in arbitration and seemingly resistant to an extension, at least from Boston.” …

• Merrimack, playing its first men’s basketball game in D-I, stunned Northwestern, and things continue to be interesting. The Warriors, who play a swarming defense and are extremely athletic, are 4-3 after Friday’s night’s win over Division III Lesley, a 110-16 barn burner. You read that score right – and Lesley had five field goals in the game. …

• An anonymous scout told Sports Illustrated he likes what he sees in LSU quarterback Joe Burrow, saying “He has some of the stuff Brady has — he can get away, move around in the pocket, make subtle movements to buy time,” the scout said. “That’s hard to find, and he has that.” …

• The Red Sox, who last hosted the All-Star Game in 1999 — remember the Ted Williams drama? — want to have it again soon. “We would love to have an All-Star Game here,” team president Sam Kennedy told The Boston Globe. “In fact, I talked to some of the folks at MLB about the possibility. We need to work and figure out a time that would work for the convention centers. But we’ve told MLB that we would like to host. We’d like to make it happen (again) in the near future.” …

• The Maple Leafs fired head coach Mike Babcock with the rest of this year plus three more years at $5.875 million per year still left on his contract. …

• Baseball, which continues to investigate the Astros and sign stealing, is again shooting itself in the foot by going ahead with the plan to wipe out MLB affiliations for 42 minor league teams, including the Red Sox’ Lowell Spinners. Remember, the sport has an anti-trust exemption from Congress and some see this as a violation of that exemption. …

• Meanwhile, stats analyst Max Goldstein tweets: “José Altuve at home in the 2017 playoffs against breaking pitches: .500 batting average / .750 slugging; José Altuve on the road in the 2017 playoffs against breaking pitches: .118 batting average / .118 slugging.”

• Brown, asked if he’s freer offensively with Irving gone, said, “No comment. Next question.”…

• Saturday was the 35th anniversary of the Doug Flutie Hail Mary in Miami. From Wikipedia on what else happened in the game: “The Hurricanes’ Bernie Kosar passed for a school-record 447 yards; Miami running back Melvin Bratton ran for four touchdowns; Flutie passed for 472 yards and four touchdowns and became the first collegiate quarterback ever to surpass 10,000 yards passing in a college career. …

• The White Sox gave catcher Yasmani Grandal a four-year/$73 million deal and extended Jose Abreu as they look to become a factor NOW. Grandal, with Milwaukee last season after losing to the Red Sox in 2018 World Series, as a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers, weighed in on the Astros alleged cheating (Houston beat LA in the 2017 playoffs), saying, “They’re doing whatever they can to win. If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying, I guess. It got them a ring. ... The past is the past. It happened. People found out. Now, let’s do something to fix it and keep on going.” …

• Patriots coach Bill Belichick, asked this week if he had a sense of the availability of Sanu and Dorsett, said, “I have a sense, yeah.” Can you share? “Yeah, we’ll share when the injury report comes out after practice. We’ll make sure you get a copy, 100 percent,” he said. “There’s no point in guessing on it. Might as well go out and practice and see what they can do, and then make an accurate report. I’m not going to sit here and try to Ouija board it here this morning and tell you how a guy’s going to feel before he’s gone out there and done anything. I mean, that wouldn’t be responsible on my part.” …

• From Inside Hockey’s Carolyn Mooney: “(David) Pastrnak‘s 20 goals in 22 games is the fastest by a Bruin since Cam Neely‘s 20 goals in 19 games during the 1993-94 season.” …

• Finally, the Yankees are going after the $26 million they owe Jacoby Ellsbury for the coming season (and perhaps more) after they released him. They say he got unauthorized medical treatment. Bill Madden of the New York Daily News said, “Could be steroids related.”

Mike Shalin covers Boston pro sports for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His email address is shalinmike@yahoo.com. Follow him on Twitter @mscotshay.