Celtics

Against Isaiah Thomas, it's Kemba Walker's time to be the Celtics' 4th-quarter hero

Against Isaiah Thomas, it's Kemba Walker's time to be the Celtics' 4th-quarter hero

BOSTON — Kemba Walker remembers watching the Isaiah Thomas-era Celtics from afar. He marveled at the way Thomas' big fourth quarters used to make the Garden roar. He watched Boston's playoff surge in the 2017 playoffs and wondered what it felt like to play on that sort of stage.

How crazy, then, was it to watch Walker tuck behind an Enes Kanter screen and splash a crunch-time 3-pointer over Thomas to seal Boston’s 140-133 triumph over the visiting Washington Wizards on Wednesday night.

The Celtics have now won nine in a row. That’s two games longer than any win streak Walker ever experienced in Charlotte. Boston owns the NBA’s best record at 9-1 as it braces for a five-game trip that ought to tell us a lot more about where exactly this team sits in among the league’s elite.

The Celtics have had to patch together some ugly wins early this season and the only constant has been Walker figuring out a way to dump in a bunch of points, particularly in key spots.

Walker is 17th in the NBA in scoring while averaging 25 points per game but he’s fifth in second-half scoring, putting up 16.4 points per game, all while shooting 50 percent from the field and 55.9 percent beyond the 3-point arc after the intermission. He’s sixth in fourth-quarter scoring at 8.1 points per game but rises to No. 1 in the league when you judge based on per-100 possession production (57.9 points per 100 possessions).

No need to make comparisons here. Kardiac Kemba isn’t producing at King in the Fourth level production, but he’s damn good. The Celtics have had an embarrassment of riches in terms of fourth-quarter producers in recent seasons from Thomas to Kyrie Irving to Walker.

It’s why Marcus Smart laughs and declares himself spoiled when asked about all the clutch players he’s had alongside him in Boston’s backcourt.

"I’ve been lucky. I’ve been here for all three of them,” said Smart. "Those guys, it’s a different mindset when the fourth quarter hits.

"It’s kinda like when you know you’ve got to do something. Your mom’s coming home and you ain’t done the dishes so you had to run. That’s how it is in the fourth quarter. Something just clicks like, ‘Oh, we gotta go, it’s time to turn it on.’"

Walker scored 11 third-quarter points Wednesday then went cold for a stretch in the fourth. The late 3-pointer was his only make of the frame and yet the Celtics needed it to bury these pesky but defense-averse Wizards.

What is it about key moments that allows Walker to shine brightest?

“Just playing the game. Just the way the game is going sometimes, Brad is just calling my number,” said Walker. "Whenever he’s calling the plays for me, whatever’s my play, I’m just looking to be aggressive, make the right play. But my teammates do such a great job kind of stretching, getting me open, holding the screens. They know I like to pull up off the screens so they do a great job of just getting me open.”

Walker finished with a team-high 25 points on 8-of-17 shooting but was just one of seven players in double figures for scoring. He spent much of his postgame press conference gushing about the way others stepped up, including Boston’s injury-thinned bench.

A west coast trip awaits. There’s going to be bumps in the road, at least more than Boston has encountered thus far. But Walker is ready for it.

"We’re going to learn a lot, man,” said Walker. "When you go on road trips is when adversity starts to hit, fatigue starts to set in, guys want to get back home. Those trips are long. But we’re going to learn a lot about each other.

“Hopefully when adversity does hit, we’re going to see how we handle it. That’s what’s the most important thing. For me, I just want to keep this team together as much as possible. This is a huge stretch for us, really important, and it’s gonna show what we’re made of.”

Walker knows there’s going to be games where, like Thomas, he’s going to have to step up and lead this team. He’s going to have to shoulder the load.

He’s been watching from afar and he’s ready for those moments, and so much more.

Don’t miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Warriors, which tips off Friday at 9:30 p.m. ET with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike & Scal have the call of the game at 10:30 p.m. You can also stream the game through the MyTeams App.

Gordon Hayward eyes potential Celtics return Monday night vs. Cavaliers

Gordon Hayward eyes potential Celtics return Monday night vs. Cavaliers

BOSTON — Boston Celtics forward Gordon Hayward said the fractured bone in his left hand has completely healed and acknowledged the possibility that he could return to action on Monday night against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

"Bone has healed, probably stronger than my right hand. There’s a plate in there with screws. The bone is good,” Hayward said Sunday after going through the team’s offday practice. Boston did not engage in any live 5-on-5 action but Hayward sounded open to returning Monday.

"Tomorrow’s a possibility,” he said. "See how I feel when I wake up, go through shootaround, see how it goes.”

Celtics coach Brad Stevens said he’d let the training staff determine when Hayward was ready to return but also didn’t rule out Monday and noted, “he’s coming back sooner than later.”

The Celtics originally announced a 6-week return-to-action timeline for Hayward after he underwent surgery to repair a fourth metacarpal fracture in his left hand on November 11. Hayward suffered the injury running into LaMarcus Aldridge on Nov. 9.

Hayward has ramped up activity over the past week and acknowledged that an earlier return seemed possibly recently.

"I mean you try to take it day-by-day. I think as it’s steadily improving and can do more and more, you start to think coming back a little bit earlier,” said Hayward. "I think you set the timeline a little bit later than what you’re hoping for just so that [the media] and everyone else isn’t like — if you’re late like, what’s the deal?”

Hayward stressed that, if the bone is fully healed, he’s at no real risk for reinjury without taking another shot.

"I can’t do anything that’s going to hurt it. I’m going to have to get hit equally as hard, probably more than last time, because I have the metal in my hand now,” said Hayward. "So the bone is healed. I can’t hurt it worse. It’s almost like playing through the pain, the tissues that I have in my hand, those are a lot slower to recover, so those are going to be sore a little bit. Motion and strength is going to take a little while to get back; it’s whether or not you can play through that and still be effective. That’s kind of what we’re determining but the bone is healed.”

Hayward said he does not expect to have the hardware in his hand removed unless it bothers him further down the road. He admitted he’s been cautious with the hand as he ramps up contact activities but doesn’t expect that to linger.

"It’s definitely something I’m still guarding and it’s going to be like that for a little while,” said Hayward. "That’s only natural. But part of that is getting out there and playing and getting over it mentally. I have gotten a hit [by an assistant coach], it reacted normally to that. The bone has healed and that’s the important part.”

A six-week return had Hayward looking at closer to a Christmas return. The Celtics play three games in four nights starting with Monday’s visit from the Cavaliers.

Boston is 9-4 without Hayward.

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Cavaliers, which tips off Monday at 7 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Tommy & Mike have the call at 7:30 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

Bryce Brown hits franchise 3's record in Red Claws loss

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Bryce Brown hits franchise 3's record in Red Claws loss

The Maine Red Claws were in action at home at the Portland Expo Center on Saturday night hosting the Delaware Blue Coats, taking a 128-123 loss to fall to 7-4 and fourth place in the Eastern Conference.

Tacko Fall wasn’t in action, but Bryce Brown was simply furious, leading all scorers with 43 points 15 of 17 from the floor overall and a franchise single-game record 11 of 11 three-pointers. Tremont Waters was terrific, too, with 18 points and 11 assists.

HIGHLIGHTS

BRYCE BROWN

Brown, an undrafted free agent who helped lead Auburn to its first Final Four appearance last spring, was simply unconscious for the Claws. He shot a perfect 11 of 11 from three-point range to give him an absurd effective field goal percentage of 1.2 for the game.

TREMONT WATERS

Waters, the Connecticut native, was crafty in his distribution, with just four turnovers to go with his 11 assists.

Yante Maten (18 points), Vincent Poirier (18) and Justin Bibbs (10) also scored in double-figures for the Red Claws.

WHAT’S NEXT

The Red Claws return to action Friday in Des Moines, Iowa to face the Iowa Wolves, with tipoff at 8 p.m. ET.

Don’t miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Cavaliers, which tips off Monday at 6:30 p.m. ET with Celtics Pregame Live, then Mike & Scal have the call of the game at 7:30 p.m. You can also stream the game through the MyTeams App.