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The “instant chemistry” between Evan Fournier and Kemba Walker

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For most of the season, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum have propelled the Celtics, but the veteran duo of Evan Fournier and Kemba Walker could be what really pushes them deep into the playoffs.

New Orleans Pelicans v Boston Celtics Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

“Basketball is basketball.”

That was Evan Fournier’s assessment of the bubbling chemistry that he and Kemba Walker (and the rest of the team) have started developing with the postseason just around the corner.

On Wednesday night, Fournier scored an efficient 18 points on 14 shots against the Magic, his former team. Kemba Walker lead Boston with 32, including 6 for 9 from behind the arc, in a resounding 132-96 win in Orlando.

But basketball isn’t just basketball sometimes, is it? At Fournier and Walker’s level, the eight- and nine-year veterans respectively are at a point in their careers when opportunities to play for a championship become more important than their scoring averages. After eight years and three All-Star appearances in with the Hornets, Walker left Charlotte for Boston. Fournier was traded in the final year of his contract into the Celtics’ massive TPE with the thought that he could be the missing piece to Banner 18. After a handful of first round exits in Denver and Orlando, the chance to do something big in Boston isn’t lost on Fournier.

“We want to win every game we’re involved in. Plain and simple,” Fournier said about the final six games of the regular season and what may lay ahead in the playoffs. “With this team that has a lot of playoff experience, it’s really on us to play as good as we can to make that run. I think I can play a huge part in that.”

Fournier’s current head coach agrees. “He and Kemba really like playing with each other. That has a chance to have good chemistry,” Brad Stevens said. “We just haven’t seen that much yet. They’ve just played against each other for so long. They’re both intrigued by that as well.”

After muddling through his first five games back from battling COVID, Fournier has now strung together two strong performances, just like he had after the trade deadline when he was familiarizing himself with Stevens’ system and his new teammates, including Kemba.

“Kemba and I play well together because — I don’t know — maybe because we had the same coach in previous years. Maybe that’s the reason,” Fournier said of his instant connection with Walker. Walker played for Magic head coach Steven Clifford for five seasons in Charlotte; Fournier spent the last two and half under “Cliff” playing arguably the best basketball of his career. “He’s the type of player that can really catch-and-shoot and play off each other. When I’m driving, I look for teammates and sometimes he’s open, so I try and hit him.”

While it may not seem like it at first, Walker and Fournier are very similar players. Both are capable of shooting the 3, handling the ball in a pick-and-roll, creating in the mid-range, and defending their position. Having both on the floor gives the Celtics a perimeter attack that can generate multiple defensive rotations to take advantage of.

As condensed as the season has been and with Walker and Fournier dealing with health issues, there’s very little time for them to get truly acquainted. However, that may not matter for two players that have already established them in the league.

“He just knows how to play the game the right way, you know,” Walker said. “I’ve played against Evan for years now. He’s an incredible player. We just had an instant chemistry. He’s just fun to play with.”