BOSTON — This was looking to be a green fairytale night for Kemba Walker, finally playing again and doing so against the team that unceremoniously shipped him out last June.
And perhaps to coach Tom Thibodeau’s shock, Walker was leading the way to a Knicks’ victory by scoring 29 points through three quarters and the Knicks leading by two.
But in the end, there was just another defeat, with Walker fouling out with 2:06 left after failing to score in the final period as the Celtics rolled to a 114-107 victory at TD Garden.
During pregame intros, Walker received a warm ovation from the Boston crowd as the scoreboard read: “Welcome Back, Kemba.’’
“He played really well,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said of Walker. “Really well. That’s what he’s supposed to do. He’s a pro, great character and played well.”
After being a DNP-CD for nine straight games, Walker, starting at point guard because of the six COVID-19 positives and an ankle injury to Derrick Rose, finished with 29 points, making 8 of 20 shots and hitting 5 of 11 3-pointers. He also made 8 of 10 free throws.
Former Celtic, Evan Fournier, also produced with 32 points but it wasn’t enough to offset the COVID Boston Big 3 of Jayson Tatum (25), Jaylen Brown (23) and Josh Richardson, who racked up 27 points.
Julius Randle was ineffective despite his 20 points and nine rebounds. He was just 6-of-19. The Knicks got three points from their depleted bench — all from Mitchell Robinson — in Thibodeau’s eight-man rotation. The Knicks fell to 13-17 while the Celtics moved to .500 at 15-15.
Each team had six players in COVID-19 protocols. The Celtics were missing eight players total.
For three quarters, Walker was proving size doesn’t matter. Thibodeau had canceled Walker, with the lone explanation being he wanted more size at that position. Walker scored 18 points in the third quarter as the Knicks took a six-point lead.
The Knicks came roaring back in the third quarter. Nerlens Noel, with his first points, tied it on a lane banker, then Walker went to work.
The former UConn star hit back-to-back 3-pointers, including one in transition. That pushed the Knicks into their first lead with 5:45 left in the third quarter and gave Walker 24 points. Walker, in all, scored 18 points in the third quarter as the Knicks led 88-86 after three quarters.
Walker hit his first two shots — a driving layup and a top-of-the-key jumper but then got two fouls and was out five minutes into the contest.
Wayne Selden, in his first action of note, checked in for Walker and was scoreless the entire night.
Walker returned but ultimately went 1-of-9 the rest of the half. Still, by intermission, he finished with 11 points before dominating the third quarter with his speed and shotmaking.