Celtics

Why Kemba Walker credits Gordon Hayward for helping him thrive with Celtics

Why Kemba Walker credits Gordon Hayward for helping him thrive with Celtics

It was a fair question when Kemba Walker joined the Celtics: After years of being "the guy" in Charlotte, how would the All-Star guard handle carrying a lighter load on a deep Boston team?

Walker put the kibosh on those concerns by embracing his role as a "team-first" point guard in Boston alongside promising young wings Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. But he actually went too far the other way, to the point where he was passing up open shots.

Enter Gordon Hayward, who encouraged Walker to unleash the scoring prowess that helped him average 25.6 points per game in his final season with the Hornets.

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"He was always coming up to me, telling me that they (the Celtics) want me to be more aggressive—they can tell when I'm not," Walker told Bleacher Report's Yaron Weitzman in a recent interview.

"He made me feel comfortable, which I really appreciated, especially early in the year. Just letting me know that nobody is going to say anything, and nobody is going to be mad at me for shooting [certain] shots."

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Celtics assistant coach Joe Mazzulla led the charge in urging Walker to shoot more. But Hayward assured Walker that the players had his back, too, which was instrumental in the veteran gaining confidence with his new team.

The results showed on the court, too: Walker increased both his field goal attempts (from 16.7 per game in November to 17.4 in December) and scoring average (21.2 points per game in November; 23.2 in December) to help the Celtics go 10-3 during the month of December.

A knee injury limited Walker's effectiveness as the season progressed further, but it appears he's fully healthy entering the NBA restart in Orlando later this month. If the 30-year-old continues to be aggressive on offense, the C's could be a serious problem for opponents in the bubble.

NBA odds: Celtics' title chances rise as East playoff picture gets clearer

NBA odds: Celtics' title chances rise as East playoff picture gets clearer

The Boston Celtics needed a few days to find their bearings in the NBA bubble. But now that they're on the right track, they could be staying Orlando for a while.

The Celtics locked themselves into the Eastern Conference's No. 3 seed Sunday with a 122-119 overtime win over the Orlando Magic. The victory was their third in a row after routing the Brooklyn Nets and stomping the defending champion Toronto Raptors.

One of the Celtics' major rivals, meanwhile, is heading in the other direction. The Philadelphia 76ers just lost All-Star guard Ben Simmons to a knee injury that could sideline him the entire postseason and fell to the No. 6 seed in the East with Sunday's loss to the Portland Trail Blazers.

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Grizzlies, which begins Tuesday 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.

Both the Celtics and Sixers have three seeding games remaining, but as it stands now, they'd face each other in the first round of the NBA playoffs, a matchup that Boston actually might welcome with Simmons sidelined.

In short, things are looking up the C's -- and the sportsbooks have taken notice. Here are DraftKings Sportsbook's latest 2020 NBA championship odds as of Monday morning:

1. Milwaukee Bucks: +250
2. Los Angeles Lakers: +260
3. Los Angeles Clippers: +310
4. Toronto Raptors: +1000
5. Houston Rockets: +1300
6. Boston Celtics: +1600
7. Denver Nuggets: +2500
8. Miami Heat: +2500
9. Dallas Mavericks: +4000
10. Utah Jazz: +4000
All other teams have odds worse than +4000

The Celtics entered the bubble with +2000 odds to win the title but now sit at +1600, closely behind the Raptors and Rockets.

As for the Sixers? They also had +2000 odds prior to the seeding round but have plummeted outside the top 10 to +5000 after Simmons' injury.

The Bucks, Lakers and Clippers have long been the three most serious title contenders. The Celtics have held steady as a dark horse, though, and recent developments have strengthened their championship case: Kemba Walker has looked great while ramping up from a knee injury, while Jayson Tatum has shaken off some early rust to return to All-Star form.

Boston can take its foot off the gas during its final three seeding games with the No. 3 seed wrapped up. But once the postseason begins, it's full speed ahead toward Banner 18.

Celtics' Jayson Tatum shouts out Carmelo Anthony for hitting NBA milestone

Celtics' Jayson Tatum shouts out Carmelo Anthony for hitting NBA milestone

Jayson Tatum was five years old when Carmelo Anthony entered the NBA, so he literally grew up watching the All-Star forward.

Tatum always has admired Anthony's game, so after 'Melo made NBA history in the Portland Trail Blazers' 124-121 win over the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday, the Boston Celtics forward had to show him love.

Here's Tatum's Twitter shout-out of Anthony after the 36-year-old moved to 15th on the NBA's all-time scoring list:

Anthony ironically passed Celtics legend Paul Pierce, who racked up 24,021 of his 26,397 career points in Boston.

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Grizzlies, which begins Tuesday 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.

Tatum called Anthony one of his "top three favorite players" after the Celtics and Blazers met earlier this season, so it's no wonder he was so excited to see the 36-year-old make history (even if it was at Pierce's expense).

Anthony respects Tatum's game, too: He admitted earlier this season he "loves" watching Tatum play and said the 22-year-old is "like a little brother to me."

Tatum might eye Pierce and Anthony on the all-time scoring list one day if he continues to play at a high level.