Celtics

Celtics-Thunder Takeaways: C's get a common-of-late victory with a rare healthy lineup

Celtics-Thunder Takeaways: C's get a common-of-late victory with a rare healthy lineup

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Before Kemba Walker hit the Chesapeake Energy Arena floor to warm up for today’s game against the Thunder, he skipped through the corridor on to the floor, a usually-happy man who seemed to be more jovial than usual. 

“Feeling good man; feeling good,” a smiling Walker told NBC Sports Boston. 

Now we know why. 

This was one of the rare games in which the Celtics’ core starting five and primary reserves were all healthy enough to play. 

And they needed every last one of them in knocking off the Oklahoma City Thunder 112-111 to extend their winning streak to seven in a row. 

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This win was particularly sweet for the Celtics (37-15) in beating a Thunder team that had won nine of their previous 10 games. 

As expected, this game wasn’t decided until the final minute of play. 

A Chris Paul lay-up cut Boston’s lead to 111-108 with 16.8 seconds to play. 

Boston. Time-out. 

Coming out of the time-out, Gordon Hayward’s drive to the basket was blocked with the loose ball recovered by the Thunder. 

Moments later, Marcus Smart came up with a steal near half-court, tossed the ball ahead to Kemba Walker who was fouled. 

Walker made the first of two free throws, with the miss being rebounded by the Thunder with 2.5 seconds to play. 

They called a time-out, but it didn’t matter as Paul’s 3-point attempt dropped as the final horn sounded. 

Boston comes away with one of its more impressive wins this season, getting it done with a group that we have rarely seen this season play together - the regular starting five of Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Gordon Hayward and Daniel Theis. 

SLOW START, STRONG FINISH FOR TATUM

Jayson Tatum was about as dormant as we’ve seen him this year, going scoreless in the first quarter with few balls thrown in his direction.

But in the second quarter, Tatum looked more like All-Star Tatum as he scored seven points in the second as part of a double-double of 26 points and 11 rebounds.

KEMBA WALKER

These are the games that remind us all how big a deal it is that Kemba Walker is a Celtic. 

He led the Celtics with 27 points, but more than that, he delivered big plays in the closing moments when the game’s outcome was very much in the air. 

Yes, he missed some fourth quarter free throws that we rarely see him miss, but his overall play and presence when the game was up for grabs was critical to the Celtics getting one of its better wins this season. 

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GORDON HAYWARD

There were others who scored more and played better defense, but Hayward finished with a double-double of 13 points and 10 rebounds, many of which kept possessions alive or helped close out a good defensive sequence by securing the loose ball so Boston could initiate its offense.

You hear all the time about how Hayward’s role remains undefined when the truth of the matter is, what they need from Hayward night-in and night-out is obvious. 

Make an impact. 

Scoring. Rebounding. Playmaking.

It doesn’t matter.

And Sunday’s win was yet another game in which Hayward gave the game what it needed and the end result being an impressive win for Boston. 

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Rockets, which begins Tuesday at 8:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at 9:30 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

Celtics' Semi Ojeleye gives positive reaction to reported NBA return proposal

Celtics' Semi Ojeleye gives positive reaction to reported NBA return proposal

The NBA's Board of Governors reportedly is expected to approve a 22-team return plan during Thursday's meeting, which would pave the way for the 2019-20 season to resume later in the summer.

Under the reported proposal, each of the remaining 22 teams would play eight more regular season games before a 16-team playoff commences. 

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The Boston Celtics currently are the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference playoff race. They also are one of three teams in the East that's already clinched a postseason berth. It's not a perfect plan, but it does allow players some regular season games to get ready for the grind of the playoffs. The proposal gives teams on the playoff bubble a chance to earn a postseason berth as well.

Boston Celtics forward Semi Ojeleye joined Wednesday night's "Arbella Early Edition" to discuss the proposed return plan and the challenge players will have in getting ready to restart the season.

"I think it's a good plan," Ojeleye said. "Obviously, the entire pandemic we've been focused on keeping people healthy, and keeping the players and the fans healthy, that's why we shut (the season) down. I think what we're doing now, easing back into workouts with a few people in the gym is a good plan. Hopefully, going forward we keep people healthy as well."

What has Ojeleye been doing to stay in shape?

"I've been blessed to have a little outdoor space," he said. "I got my hands on some indoor equipment -- some bikes and weights. From there, it's really just about not skipping days. There have been a lot of days where I'm like -- I can't hoop, but I knew I could try to get my cardio in and try get my lifts in. That's what I've been focused on, and hopefully it pays off."

There's been a lot of debate over how much time players need to get into game shape. Some people think a month or even a few weeks is too much, but the long layoff hasn't been like a normal offseason where players are able to play pickup games and train however they choose. Many players have had limited access to workout equipment during the COVID-19 pandemic as gyms and team facilities have been closed.

Ojeleye explained why players need plenty of time to prepare their body and mind for the remainder of the regular season and the ensuing playoffs.

'It's going to be tough. Different guys have different access to weights and facilities," Ojeleye said. "And guys are at different stages of their careers. Some guys are coming off injuries, some guys have had nagging injuries during the year and they've taken a break. Everyone is going to need a little bit more time. I'd say, at least a few weeks at minimum for everyone to get back in shape and to get that feel. As a team, we need our chemistry, and that's going to take time as well."

The Celtics, despite making several roster changes before the 2019-20 season, quickly developed a strong chemistry. While there are reasons to be optimistic the C's will find this chemistry again soon, the process doesn't happen overnight, especially when these players have been unable to play basketball with their teammates during this pandemic.

What NBA's return-to-action plan means for the Celtics

What NBA's return-to-action plan means for the Celtics

When the NBA season was put on pause in March, the timing could not have been much better for the Boston Celtics. 

Wins were getting harder to come by (they had lost three of their last five), the jacuzzi-hot play of Jayson Tatum was starting to cool off some and Kemba Walker was headed towards a stretch of “strategic rest” days off because of knee soreness. 

And just like the rest of the NBA is fired up about the potential return to play reportedly as early as the end of late July, the Celtics are an eager bunch to restart the season as well. 

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And they should be for a number of reasons. 

First and foremost, there’s a very real chance that they can move up in the standings if the league adopts the reported return-to-play model which includes eight regular season games before the playoffs. 

Currently third in the East, the Celtics would begin the postseason against Philadelphia if the league went straight into the playoffs — an idea that hasn’t garnered a ton of support from owners or players. 

An eight-game slate of games would provide Boston with enough opportunities to potentially move ahead of Toronto and secure the No. 2 seed in the East. 

The way the standings look now, the potential for movement is great for many teams. 

Boston (43-21) trails the Raptors (46-18) by three games in the standings. Behind the Celtics you find the Heat (41-24) who are 2.5 games back.

The next closest teams to Boston beyond those two are Indiana and Philadelphia (both 39-26) who each trail Boston by 4.5 games. 

For the Celtics’ sake, moving up from their current draft position and avoiding a first-round matchup with Philadelphia would be the preferred path to take this postseason. 

The Sixers, one of the bigger disappointments this season, will feature a healthy Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, making them a much tougher foe come playoff time. 

For the Celtics, the alternative if they move up would be a Brooklyn Nets team that’s expected to play this postseason without Kyrie Irving or Kevin Durant who have both been out recovering from injuries. 

There’s also a chance that Boston would face the Indiana Pacers in the first round if the C's remain as the Eastern Conference’s No. 3 seed which, similar to facing Philadelphia, would provide a tough first-round matchup. 

The reboot to the season also allows more time for the Celtics to adjust to what’s shaping up to be a new pecking order. 

While Walker is the team’s most proven, most decorated talent, there’s no escaping the inevitable rise of Tatum as the face of the franchise (if he’s not already there). 

As the season wore on, his ascension was undeniable. Tatum began the season as a player the Celtics were hoping to see blossom into a big-time talent with the departures of Irving (Brooklyn) and Al Horford (Philadelphia).

Following his first All-Star appearance in February, Tatum averaged 29.9 points, 7.9 rebounds and 3.1 assists while shooting 47.2 percent from the field and 46.8 percent on 3’s. His ability to pick up where he left off would go far in Boston’s quest to build off the successes they had this past season. 

As for Walker, he had missed some games and played limited minutes in others shortly before the season was paused thanks to knee soreness.

The extended downtime without games or practice should allow Walker to return to action revived and refreshed.

And him being healthy combined with Tatum’s improved play gives the Celtics a potent 1-2 punch as they inch closer to rebooting the system and in doing so, restarting their journey towards what they believe will be a deep postseason run.