Thursday , Mar , 10 , 2005 C.Y. Ellis

Walker is just what the Celtics needed

 The Boston Celtics are a different team since re- acquiring forward Antoine Walker at the trade deadline.

On February 24th, Boston pulled off a blockbuster deal with the Atlanta Hawks just prior to the trade deadline, as they acquired Walker and cash considerations for guard Gary Payton, who was waived by Atlanta and re-signed with the Celtics, veteran forward Tom Gugliotta, center Michael Stewart and a first-round draft choice.

Originally selected out of Kentucky by the Celtics in the first round (sixth pick overall) of the 1996 NBA Draft, Walker spent the first seven years of his career with Boston before being traded along with Tony Delk to Dallas in October 2003 for Raef LaFrentz, Jiri Welsch, Chris Mills and the Mavericks first round selection in the 2004 NBA Draft. After just one season in Dallas, Walker was dealt once again with Delk in August 2004 to Atlanta for Jason Terry, Alan Henderson and a future first-round draft pick.

Walker and All-Star Paul Pierce were one the NBA’s most dangerous one-two punches for five seasons (1998-2003), before Boston’s head of basketball operations Danny Ainge sent the Kentucky product packing to Dallas. Ainge has now corrected his mistake by reuniting Pierce and Walker, which has made Boston a much better club.

During the first seven years of his career, Walker averaged 20 or more points five times for Boston. His role was reduced during his one season in Dallas and his production dipped to a career-low 14 points per game. While playing for the Hawks, Walker averaged 20.4 points for a very bad team.

Since being brought back to Boston, which is 5-1 since the trade with Atlanta, Walker has averaged 20.3 points and 9.2 rebounds in just under 35 minutes of action per game. The Celtics look like a more complete team, as the offense is more potent and the team chemistry is evident.

Pierce, who is averaging a team-high 21.6 points per game, has to be thrilled that Walker is back in the fold. Boston’s opponents have doubled and triple- teamed Pierce, but with Walker on the court teams can’t focus their attention on just one player. Ricky Davis, who is averaging a solid 15.5 points per contest, is a scorer but he doesn’t have the complete game that Walker has.

A three-time All-Star, the addition of Walker has allowed head coach Doc Rivers, who is in his first year with the Celtics, to juggle his lineup and cause matchup problems for the opposition. Rivers can force teams to have to concentrate on shutting down Boston’s perimeter game, which allows the middle and the low post to open up for the Celtics’ big men.

The 28-year-old Walker makes the Celtics a more complete team. Pierce, who is a four-time All-Star, and Davis will benefit the most from their Walker’s abilities, but forwards Mark Blount, who has registered 9.9 points per contest, and LaFrentz, who is averaging 11.1 points and 7.2 rebounds, should also find a lot of new opportunities that they are not use to having.

Walker is an excellent ball-handler and also has the ability to knock down the three. He is shooting over 35 percent from beyond the arc for his career. Davis, Pierce and Walker are all able to drive to the basket and can also drain the outside jumper, which is going to make it very difficult for teams to play effective defense in the interior.

Even though Philadelphia acquired star forward Chris Webber from Sacramento at the trade deadline, Boston seems to have found the best fit for its team and should be able to win the weak Atlantic Division. The chemistry is there for the Celtics, as it is almost like Pierce and Walker never stopped playing together.

The Celtics now have two big-time scorers in Pierce and Walker to along with some veteran role players who fit right in with what Rivers is trying to do with his squad. Boston was fortunate to get Payton back, as the veteran guard’s experience and leadership will be huge in the postseason. Davis should be able to get better looks at the hoop since he is no longer the second scoring option to Pierce, while Blount and LaFrentz will be able to take advantage of more space down low.

With the addition of Walker, the Celtics got just what the doctor ordered.