BOSTON — Tonight was the night Boston fans could not wait to serenade their Messiah-turned-Judas, Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving, with “Kyrie $#%^@!” refrains all night (which they did vociferously), but as tonight’s highly-anticipated game wore on, the Celtics’ crowd became hushed with every long-range effort that swished through the twine from their opponent.
However, Boston’s new point guard made sure his play made the Celtics forget about what transpired earlier in the game — and, in some ways, what transpired at the Celtics point guard position for the past two seasons.
Walker, coming back from a scary injury last week in which he suffered a concussion, scored 13 points in the second and third quarters — a stretch that saw the Brooklyn Nets nail 15 three-pointers — on his way to 39 points in leading the Celtics to a 212-110 victory over Brooklyn, a night that was supposed to mark former Celtic guard Kyrie Irving’s return to the city he absconded this past offseason.
Instead of being able to visualize the target of their vitriol, the Celtics’ fans had to settle for being as loud as possible to make Irving hear their feelings about him from wherever he was, as Irving missed his sixth straight game due to a shoulder injury. Soon afterward, the Celtics were staring a team without its superstar that was shooting the lights out, but Walker and the Celtics scored 64 points after halftime and held the Nets to just 8-of-24 shooting in the final 12 minutes to come away with the victory.
“Just keep swinging. It’s a long game and you have to just play the next possession. Win the next possession,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens about staying in the game despite all the Nets’ threes. “Kemba kept us in it in the second quarter because [the Nets] were the ones hitting the flurries of threes. He kept hitting huge shots and that allowed us to stay in the game. But you just stay with it.
“We’ve all seen many times; when teams get hot it’s harder to sustain throughout the course of the whole game and we knew how urgent we had to play coming right out of the gate in the second half because of the way that they felt after the first half,” Stevens continued.
While Walker was able to keep up with the Nets in the second stanza, the Celtics as a whole fell behind after allowing Brooklyn to make 10 of 16 three-pointers in the second, with guard Garrett Temple swishing six of his seven shots in the quarter — including four from behind the arc. Brooklyn scored 40 points in the quarter and took a 63-57 lead into halftime.
As the Nets cooled down after halftime, Walker stayed hot, making 4-of-6 from the field and scoring 13 more points in the third as the Celtics pulled ahead for good after outscoring Brooklyn 34-23 in the period.
Seeing Walker back to his All-Star self was a little jarring given the last time he was seen on a basketball court, being taken off on a stretcher after a collision with teammate Semi Ojeleye on Nov. 22 in Denver. Walker missed the next three games, but the injury was, fortunately, not as serious as it initially appeared.
“I could have played last game, honestly,” Walker said. “I’m on the court, I’m on the court. That’s really it. I wasn’t out there thinking about anything. I wanted to win. Play aggressive, play with intensity.”