December 5, 2021

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Fit And Go Forward

Kemba Walker-Jayson Tatum come playoff time ‘can be pretty tough’ on foes

BOSTON — Prior to the NBA season being put on pause in March, Jayson Tatum was that rising star whose brilliance began to shine brighter than most players in the league.

And there was teammate and perennial All-Star Kemba Walker, who was not nearly as impactful courtesy of a sore left knee that both he and the Celtics remain cautiously optimistic will be strong enough in the coming weeks now that the NBA season has resumed in Orlando, Fla.

Because as good a player Tatum has been, pairing him up with a healthy Walker come playoff time gives the Celtics the greatest shot at delivering the kind of memorable postseason run Celtics fans have been clamoring for.

But first things first. 

Walker, who was involved in a limited capacity in the team’s practice on Thursday, addressed his knee issues for the first time since the Celtics arrived in Orlando, Fla. as part of the NBA’s reboot to the season. 

“I’ll be back. The plan is to take things pretty slow,” Walker said. “That’s really it. I’m feeling really good right now. But we don’t wan’t –  I don’t want – to have any setbacks; just taking it slow. But I’ll be back in time when things get real for sure.”

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Getting real by Walker’s standards or anyone involved with the Celtics organization for that matter, means the playoffs. 

That is a place that Walker is familiar with … as a spectator. 

Walker spent his previous eight seasons in Charlotte, where the Hornets went to the postseason twice and wound up losing both playoff series. 

Of course, the Celtics’ four-year, $141 million contract for Walker was very much an enticement for him to sign with the team when he became a free agent last summer. 

But more than that, Walker would finally have a shot at being part of a team that wasn’t just good enough to get to the postseason. 

They’re good enough to win it all. 

And that improved optimism is in part due to the meteoric rise we all have seen in Jayson Tatum’s game. 

A first-time All-Star this season, the 22-year-old Tatum has taken his game to another level since the break, a level that gives Celtics Nation every reason in the world to believe that Boston will be in the hunt for a championship this season and many seasons to come.

Since the break, Tatum has 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.

Those are the kind of stats that show just how potent Tatum can be when it comes to scoring, and tend to overshadow the 6-foot-9 forward’s defensive prowess.

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But any chase by Boston for a championship will have to involve Walker; specifically a healthy Walker. 

Until this season, that was never an issue with the 30-year-old who has been among the NBA’s most durable players for years. 

In the four seasons prior to arriving in Boston, Walker missed a total of four games. 

To put this injury-riddled season for Walker in perspective, he has missed six games since the All-Star break in early February and 14 for the season.

“This is not normal for me, being out like this,” Walker said. “But the smart way to go about things … I want to be at my best most definitely come playoffs.”

Because the Walker we have seen following the All-Star break is a mere shell of the dynamic scorer we saw in Charlotte and prior to the break, here in Boston. 

In the four games Walker played since the All-Star break, he averaged just 14.8 points, 4.3 assists and 3.8 rebounds while shooting 30.5 and 22.2 percent from the field and three-point range, respectively. 

Prior to the break, Walker was averaging 21.8 points on 42.9 percent shooting from the field and 38.8 percent from 3-point range while grabbing 4.1 rebounds and dishing out 5.0 assists per game. 

That was Walker playing much closer to the four-time All-Star we’ve seen blossom in the NBA after having led the UConn Huskies to an improbable NCAA title run in 2011. 

A relatively healthy Walker paired with Tatum picking up where he left off when the season was suspended March 12, creates a lethal 1-2 punch for Boston in its quest to bring home Banner 18.

“We can be pretty tough for sure,” Walker said. “Since he’s (Tatum) been killin’ it the way he’s been, I haven’t really been able to help out like I really wanted to. I’m definitely looking forward to coming back and making an impact and being better than I was before the season ended.”

Kemba Walker-Jayson Tatum come playoff time ‘can be pretty tough’ on foes originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

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