Celtics

Brad Stevens offers strongest endorsement yet of Kemba Walker's health

Brad Stevens offers strongest endorsement yet of Kemba Walker's health

Those already concerned about Kemba Walker's knee probably did a double-take when Kendrick Perkins implied Tuesday that the Boston Celtics had "lost" their star point guard to injury.

During an interview Wednesday on 98.5 The Sports Hub's "Zolak & Bertrand," head coach Brad Stevens sung a very different tune when asked about Walker's health.

"His knee is the strongest it's been since he got here in September," Stevens said.

Download the MyTeams app for the latest Celtics news and analysis

That's a bold proclamation about a player who missed 10 games from January to March due to a balky left knee and experienced discomfort in that same knee earlier this month following a four-month layoff.

Walker looked no worse for wear Sunday during his NBA bubble debut against the Phoenix Suns, however, and has been steadily ramping up his activity level over the last few weeks.

"He has worked exceptionally hard over the last couple of weeks with a great training plan from our training staff," Stevens said. " ... (He) will play limited minutes in the first few games with the idea of building him up -- hopefully with no setbacks -- to the point where he can play normal minutes in playoff games.

"Everything has been part of a plan. It's trying to be more proactive than reactive."

Walker and several other Celtics starters sat out Boston's final scrimmage Tuesday against the Houston Rockets, but Stevens appeared to suggest he'd play Walker between 14 and 20 minutes in their first "seeding" game Friday against the Milwaukee Bucks.

"I laughed when we first showed Kemba his minutes restriction Friday night: I already told Kemba what he's going to say to me when I take him out of the game, because I've lived this enough," Stevens said. "It's not going to be pleasant. It's not going to be enjoyable, but I told him I'll take it.

"Nobody wants to come out of Game 1 just 14 to 20 minutes into it, but I feel really good about the plan we've put together. The key now is, can you get enough game time in and get yourself to feeling as good as you can so can be at your best on Aug. 17?"

That's when the NBA postseason officially begins in Orlando. And if Walker sticks to the Celtics' plan without any issues, Stevens apparently is confident his All-Star point guard can be at full strength come playoff time.

Celtics Talk Podcast: Is Jaylen Brown going to dominate the bubble? | Listen & subscribe | Watch on YouTube

Jaylen Brown has Marcus Smart's back after NBA Awards finalist snub

Jaylen Brown has Marcus Smart's back after NBA Awards finalist snub

There's what NBA Awards voters think about the best players in basketball -- and then there's what the players think.

The league announced three finalists for each individual award for the 2019-20 season Saturday, and no Boston Celtics player (or coach) made the final cut.

But were any Celtics players deserving? Jaylen Brown apparently believes so. Here's what the C's wing tweeted Saturday afternoon:

The league announced Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo, Los Angeles Lakers big man Anthony Davis and Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert as the three finalists for Defensive Player of the Year earlier in the day.

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Magic, which begins Sunday at 4 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at 5 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

If you ask Brown, though, C's teammate Marcus Smart is a better defender than all three All-Stars.

Smart's "Defensive Player of the Year" campaign began early in the 2019-20 season and gained plenty of supporters, including former Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade.

History wasn't on Smart's side, however: A guard hasn't won DPOY since Gary Payton in 1996, and the gritty Celtics shooting guard entered the NBA bubble as a +10000 long shot to win the award.

But Brown gets to see Smart make incredible defensive plays -- and lock up NBA stars of all shapes and sizes -- on a nightly basis.

So, while Smart won't be officially recognized for his defensive prowess this season, his peers still know what he brings to the table.

NBA Awards finalists: Kemba Walker believes ex-Hornets teammate got snubbed

NBA Awards finalists: Kemba Walker believes ex-Hornets teammate got snubbed

Kemba Walker still has plenty of love for his former Charlotte Hornets teammates -- especially when he feels they're being disrespected.

The NBA revealed its individual award finalists for the 2019-20 season Saturday, among them the three candidates for Most Improved Player: Miami Heat forward Bam Adebayo, Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic and New Orleans Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram.

If you ask Walker, though, that list should have included Hornets guard Devonte Graham. The Boston Celtics guard tagged Graham in the comment section of the NBA's Instagram post along with a "puzzled look" emoji.

Walker wasn't alone: Charlotte's P.J. Washington, Dwyane Bacon and Miles Bridges all replied with similar comments -- as did Graham himself on his own Instagram story.

"So disrespectful but it is what it is," Graham wrote Saturday afternoon.

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Magic, which begins Sunday at 4 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at 5 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

Kemba and Co. may have a case: Graham exploded for 18.2 points and 7.5 assists per game this season after averaging 4.7 points and 2.6 assists per game while backing up Walker as a rookie in 2018-19.

Then again, you also could make a case for two of Walker's current teammates in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, who both are enjoying career seasons for the Celtics.

Walker was very close with last season's young Hornets squad, though, so his support of Graham isn't surprising.

The C's will be shut out of this year's NBA Awards ceremony, as no Celtics players were named finalists for any award (despite Marcus Smart's early campaign for Defensive Player of the Year).

Here's the full list of finalists for each award:

Most Valuable Player
• Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
• James Harden, Houston Rockets
• LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers

Rookie of the Year
• Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies
• Kendrick Nunn, Miami Heat
• Zion Williamson, New Orleans Pelicans

Defensive Player of the Year
• Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
• Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers
• Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz

Sixth Man Award
• Montrezl Harrell, LA Clippers 
• Dennis Schröder, Oklahoma City Thunder
• Lou Williams, LA Clippers

Most Improved Player
• Bam Adebayo, Miami Heat
• Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks 
• Brandon Ingram, New Orleans Pelicans

Coach of the Year
• Mike Budenholzer, Milwaukee Bucks
• Billy Donovan, Oklahoma City Thunder
• Nick Nurse, Toronto Raptors