Celtics

Five bold Celtics predictions for the 2019-20 NBA season

Five bold Celtics predictions for the 2019-20 NBA season

NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-76ers starts at 6:30pm Wednesday with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike & Scal have the call of the game at 7:30pm.

BOSTON -- When you look at the Boston Celtics roster this season, there’s a clear distinction between who constitutes their core and those on the outside, looking in. 

Because of that, it makes for some pretty predictable outcomes this season. 

Gordon Hayward being better than he was a year ago is about a luke-warm a hot take as you’ll find out there when it comes to this upcoming season. 

Boston rotating its centers? 

Warmer, but definitely not bringing the heat!

Here are five bold Celtics predictions that are more in the bucket of long-shots, than being near-locks to happen this season. 

THE CELTICS WILL LEAD THE NBA IN SCORING THIS SEASON

The concerns about Boston’s defense are legit, with everyone in the league knowing it is the one area teams more likely than not, will try and exploit consistently. The best way to counter a shaky defense, is with a prolific scoring attack. And the Celtics have lots of weapons with the capability of doing just that. Kemba Walker is the most proven scorer on the squad, but we all know that Jayson Tatum, Gordon Hayward and Jaylen Brown can put up big numbers on any given night as well. And when you add Carsen Edwards to the mix, Boston has the kind of offensive firepower than when all is said and done, they should be averaging more points per game than any team in the NBA. 

SPEAKING OF EDWARDS … 

Second-round picks are supposed to be happy just making an NBA roster. But it’s clear that Carsen Edwards is about more than that, which is why he will be named to the NBA’s all-rookie team. Edwards has shown in summer league and more recently in the preseason that he has elite-level shooting range and accuracy. In a blowout win over Cleveland, Edwards had eight made 3-pointers … In five minutes? You don’t want to get into too many comparisons, but it’s a very, very short list of players who have played in the NBA that have that kind of instant offensive potential. There will be other rookies who will play more, for sure. But the numbers he’s likely to register in a limited amount of time, will be huge for the Celtics’ success and secure a spot for him among the league’s top first-year players. 

MARCUS SMART WILL BE TOP-3 FINISHER IN SIXTH MAN OF THE YEAR RACE

The Sixth Man of the Year award usually goes to the player coming off the bench who scores a ton of points or grabs a bunch of boards, in limited minutes. But Smart is about to change the game up this year. 

He’ll average at least 11 points per game (his career-high is 10.6, in 2017) this year, and do so shooting better than 45 percent from the field and improve upon the 36.4 percent he shot from 3-point range last season, both of which will be career highs as well. But he’ll do that while still maintaining his status as one of the best defenders - not just perimeter defenders, but overall defenders - in the NBA. And he’ll do this primarily coming off the bench while delivering the kind of two-way play that will be huge in Boston’s quest to remain among the front-runners in the East. And his efforts at impacting the game at both ends of the floor in a reserve role, will be recognized with him being among the top-3 finishers in the Sixth Man of the Year race.

JAYSON TATUM - NOT KEMBA WALKER OR GORDON HAYWARD - WILL BE BOSTON’S TOP SCORER 

Preseason stats don’t hold a ton of weight when the regular season begins. But the presence and way about producing those points, does matter. That’s why Jayson Tatum will be the Celtics’ top scorer this season. We know about his dribble-drive game, the 3-pointer and lately, a greater desire to get to the rim and finish. But what sets Tatum apart from Walker and Hayward, is his rebounding and defense. A good chunk of Boston’s transition attack will be initiated by Tatum grabbing a rebound and just taking off where he’ll look more times than not, to score because more times than not, he has the biggest mismatch in transition. Tatum also has great length which allows him to get into passing lanes for deflections and steals which he can subsequently turn into easy lay-ups or dunks. Boston should have an explosive offense, with Tatums’ two-way play being key.

KYRIE IRVING WON’T PLAY IN THE TD GARDEN THIS SEASON

We can tuck this one in the “I hope I’m wrong about this one” file, but I don’t think I am. Looking at the two dates in which Irving’s Brooklyn Nets are going to be in Boston, there’s a plausible out for Irving in both games. They are scheduled to play on Nov. 27 at the TD Garden, but the game on the 27th will be Brooklyn’s fourth game in six nights. No one should be surprised if the game on the 27th is “load management” night for Irving and he sits this one out. And with the Celtics traveling to Brooklyn to play two nights later, Irving not making the trip to Boston should not be a shocker either. The Nets don’t come back to Boston until March 3, a game that caps off a four games-in-seven-nights stretch for Brooklyn. But it’s also the front end of a back-to-back which gives the Nets a couple different ways to spin him going all season without a return trip to Boston. 

Handicapping the NBA's Eastern Conference>>>

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Kemba Walker stays ready, even in blowouts, when it matters for the Celtics

Kemba Walker stays ready, even in blowouts, when it matters for the Celtics

BOSTON -- Kemba Walker had every reason to think that his night was over going into the fourth quarter. 

Boston had a commanding lead against a Cleveland Cavaliers squad that’s considered one of the worst teams in the NBA. 

But as the game got a little too close for head coach Brad Stevens’ comfort, he turned to Walker.

And Walker responded with a barrage of 3-pointers that left the Cavs as nothing more than collateral damage in the wake of Boston’s 110-88 win. 

Walker finished with a game-high 22 points which included a trio of 3-pointers in the fourth quarter that put the Cavs (5-18) away for good. 

Boston led by as many as 29 points in the second half, only to see that lead down to as little as 14 points in the fourth with seven minutes to play. 

That’s when he called on Walker who came up with one big shot after another. 

And the way Walker responded in the fourth quarter when called upon by Stevens was a reminder of just how important it has become for the best players to be locked in from the opening tip-off to the final horn - even when victory seems all but a given. 

Said Stevens: “I just told the team afterwards, ‘If you want to be special then model after Kemba because Kemba sits over there thinks his night’s done, gets put back into the game, drills three 3’s and ends it.

Stevens added, “Special is not for everybody.”

Having spent his first eight seasons with the Charlotte Hornets, Walker knows exactly what the Cavs were thinking as they steadily chipped away at Boston’s lead.

Understanding the mindset of a team and players on the comeback trail has helped Walker appreciate and embrace the need to always stay on top of his game and ready to go - even when victory seems all but a given. 

Walker understands how a player can lose focus on the game and become relaxed down the stretch in what appears to be a blowout in the making. 

“It’s possible,” Walker says before adding, “But at the end of the day you have to stay engaged through the whole game. You just never know. In this league, 20-point leads go so fast. Teams can score in bunches really fast. You have to stay engaged.”

Which is exactly what he did. 

That not only helped Boston get the victory on Monday, but also served as a great example for the team’s younger players on how to handle themselves when things get sidetracked after going just the way they want them to for most of the game. 

“He set a great example, what he’s done in this league for a very long time,” Tatum said. “That’s why he’s one of the best players in the league.”

And a leader on this team. 

“As one of the leaders I feel I have to stay engaged,” Walker said. “Just like … you never know what to expect.  This league, guys can score so fast and easy. You just never know when teams will come back. It can get a little nerve-racking and Brad felt he had to put me back in. I knew once I got in there, I had to be more aggressive, look for my shot a little more and that’s what I did.”

Blakely's Takeaways: C's home dominance keying hot start>>>

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Pacers, which tips off Wednesday at 6 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike & Scal have the call at 7 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

Jaylen Brown on Grant Williams' 3-point woes: 'We were calling him Ben Simmons'

Jaylen Brown on Grant Williams' 3-point woes: 'We were calling him Ben Simmons'

After an 0-for-25 streak to begin his NBA career, Grant Williams finally hit his first 3-pointer on Monday night.

The Boston Celtics rookie has taken his struggles in stride and laughed off nicknames given to him by his teammates throughout the cold spell. The funniest nickname of all, though, was revealed by Jaylen Brown after Monday's win over the Cavaliers.

Blakely's Takeaways: C's home dominance keying hot start

"Yeah, we were calling him Ben Simmons," Brown said.

Hilarious.

Simmons' 3-point shooting woes are well-documented. The Philadelphia 76ers star has only attempted 21 3s in his three-year career and made two of them (2-for-4 this season). So comparing Williams to him definitely was a low blow, but maybe that's the motivation the 21-year-old needed to drain the first of his career and get on a hot streak.

The C's will take on the 76ers at TD Garden on Thursday, so all eyes are sure to be on both Williams and Simmons whenever the young guns are open behind the 3-point line.

C's-Cavs Instant Overreactions: Hayward's back like he never left>>>

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Pacers, which tips off Wednesday at 6 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike & Scal have the call at 7 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.