The Boston Celtics' three-game losing streak came to an end with a 118-112 victory over the Indiana Pacers at TD Garden on Friday night.
After falling two games under .500 earlier this week, it was a much-needed win for the last-place team in the Atlantic Division. Boston (16-17) has, for the most part, played well at home this season, improving to 9-5. But that doesn't make Friday's outcome any less necessary for head coach Brad Stevens and Co.
With the Celtics' full roster available, Kemba Walker posted a season-high 32 points, taking over early on and lifting Boston to victory.
Fresh off being named Kevin Durant's replacement for the All-Star Game on Friday, Pacers forward Domantas Sabonis notched 24 points in the loss as Indiana (15-16) fell under .500 for the second time this season.
Kemba Walker, PG, Boston Celtics: 32 points, 6 assists, 3 rebounds
Jaylen Brown, SG, Boston Celtics: 15 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists
Domantas Sabonis, PF, Indiana Pacers: 24 points, 9 assists, 6 rebounds
Myles Turner, C, Indiana Pacers: 17 points, 10 rebounds, 3 blocks
Kemba Carries Boston
Friday started off with the league's attention turning to Sabonis and Tatum. It quickly became about Walker before the day ended.
With the Brooklyn Nets announcing Durant would remain sidelined through the All-Star break, the Pacers forward was added as an Eastern Conference representative while Tatum was elevated to starter. But the focus at TD Garden could only remain on them for so long after Walker started heating up.
The guard bullied his way to the free throw line early on, forcing Indiana's defense to collapse to the basket the moment he looked to drive and creating the perfect environment for Walker to unleash his deadly step-back.
After posting 18 points on 5-of-11 shooting from the floor in the first half, Walker continued to torment the Pacers over the final two frames, drawing fouls from the likes of Sabonis, Aaron Holiday and Myles Turner while hitting all eight of his free throw attempts.
With Walker averaging 20 points per game in his previous four contests heading into Friday's action, the scoring outburst proved as timely as it was necessary. A fourth-straight loss would've put the Celtics in a perilous position as far as their contender status goes—to say nothing of the front office's ability to construct a winning roster.
For one much-needed evening, those questions can be set aside. Walker's play ensured that.
Boston will just have to prove it can win without a season-high output from Walker moving forward.
Pacers Missed Opportunity
This might be a loss the Pacers come to regret by the end of the season if things keep trending poorly in Indianapolis.
Led by quick offense from Turner, the Pacers opened up an 18-4 lead on the road against a struggling opponent only to see Boston take a 32-31 lead after the first quarter. It was the first sign that Indiana would need to play at a high level for all 48 minutes if they were going to continue the Celtics' losing streak.
The way the Pacers went about doing so left plenty to be desired.
Indiana launched 46 three-pointers—their second-highest total in any game this season—but sank just 15 as Turner, Malcolm Brogdon and Doug McDermott continued went 6-of-22 from behind the arc combined. The most damning miss came on an open look from Justin Holiday in the corner with a minute left in regulation and the Pacers trailing, 112-109.
That Indiana got the shot off at all proved a small miracle with Brown driving baseline on what would've been an uncontested look at the rim before stepping out of bounds. It was the exactly the kind of mistake that plagued the Celtics on their three-game losing streak. On Friday it was just a small speed-bump.
Immediately following Holiday's miss, Daniel Theis answered with a three that proved to be the dagger.
Indiana had a chance to prove it could take advantage of a slumping opponent. Instead the Pacers struggled to build on an early lead and complete a late comeback.
The Pacers' East Coast road trip continues Saturday at Madison Square Garden against the New York Knicks at 8 p.m. ET before heading to face the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday night. Boston has three more home games up next with the surging Washington Wizards coming to town Sunday with tipoff slated for 7 p.m.