The Celtics will try for their fifth straight win as they host the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Walker, who spent seven seasons with the Celtics before he was shipped out 1 1/2 years ago, returned to Boston at the trading deadline in a deal that sent Payton, Tom Gugliotta, Michael Stewart and a future first-round pick to Atlanta. However, the 36-year-old Payton did not report to the Hawks and was resigned by the Celtics in time for Friday’s 104-84 win over the expansion Charlotte Bobcats.
Payton, who started against the Bobcats, said that he passed on the chance to sign with Sacramento and Phoenix.
“I thought Boston was the better fit,” he said. “With the young guys, I thought I was obligated to come back to them and teach them some more. The young kids were calling me almost every day saying ‘come on back Gary.’ I decided it was the right fit to come back here.”
Walker had 18 points and eight rebounds and Payton added 10 for the Celtics, who are 4-0 since Walker’s return.
“This is probably the most talented team I’ve had play with me in Boston,” said Walker. “How many games have you seen in my career where Paul (Pierce) can take only four shots and we win by 20 points?”
Ricky Davis also scored 18 points, Marcus Banks added 13, and Mark Blount and Delonte West each had 11. The Celtics are enjoying their longest winning streak since 27-March 9, when they won six in a row.
“I like our team. I like who we are,” coach Doc Rivers said. “I like our spirit right now, and I’m literally just trying to stay out of the way of that.”
Guard Tony Allen missed his third straight game with a strained ankle.
The Timberwolves are coming off their fourth win in seven games, Friday’s 103-97 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks. Wally Szczerbiak scored 28 points off the bench and reserve Anthony Carter added a season-high 13 assists for Minnesota, which trailed by 10 with 10:21 left in the game.
The Timberwolves’ reserves scored 53 points.
“They saved the game,” said Kevin Garnett, who had 25 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. “They came in with energy, started to run and motivated the first group.”
Kevin McHale improved to 4-4 since firing Flip Saunders and taking over as Minnesota’s coach.
STANDINGS (through March 4): Timberwolves - 3rd place, 13 GB, Northwest Division. Celtics - 1st place, Atlantic Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Timberwolves - Garnett, 22.2 ppg, 13.7 rpg and 5.6 apg. Celtics - Pierce, 21.7 ppg; Walker, 9.5 rpg; Payton, 6 apg.
SEASON SERIES: Celtics, 1-0.
LAST MEETING: Feb. 6; Celtics, 103-100. At Minnesota, Pierce scored 32 points and hit two free throws with 8.9 seconds left to help seal the win. Garnett had 21 points and 13 rebounds for the Timberwolves.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Timberwolves - 12-16 on the road; Celtics - 21-9 at home.