For everything that went wrong for the Boston Celtics on Thursday, whether it be the 20 turnovers or the unbalanced offense, all the bad was outshined by Kemba Walker’s performance.
The starting point guard looked perhaps as good as he ever has in a Celtics uniform, tying a season-high 32 points with four rebounds and four assists. He got the team going again after every Phoenix run and led the way to a 99-86 win.
Everyone else barely reached double-digit scoring, though, with Payton Pritchard reaching the 10-point mark in the fourth quarter and Smart finishing with 11 points, five assists, seven rebounds and one steal.
Tatum looked like he needed a break, with a strong start facilitating flattening out before a fourth-quarter surge. He managed a 15-point, 11-rebound double-double with six assists and a steal. Tristan Thompson (nine points, 12 rebounds) flirted with a double-double as well.
Chris Paul (22 points, eight assists) did veteran All-Star point guard things for the Suns, but a poor game from Devin Booker and a worse 3-point percentage from Phoenix allowed the Celtics to maintain a semi-comfortable lead.
Boston improves to 32-27 with the win. Here’s how it all went down:
SF: Jayson Tatum
PF: Romeo Langford
C: Tristan Thompson
PG: Kemba Walker
SG: Marcus Smart
WALKER CAME READY
Coming off the first triple-double of his career in a loss Monday, Tatum looked like he wanted his second in short order.
He came out of the game with an assist on Thompson for the Celtics’ first points of the game and had an early four points, five rebounds and four assists in the opening quarter.
Walker led the scoring effort, though. He was a perfect 4-for-4 from the field (with three 3-pointers) for 11 points and an assist after one.
Boston and Phoenix were neck-and-neck half the frame until Walker lifted the team by as many as 10 points, but the Suns ate that up to tie things up with two minutes to play.
Smart hit a triple after that to create some separation. He had five points in the quarter, three rebounds and this awesome assist:
Boston closed out the quarter up 26-21.
Ball movement was great, with the Celtics making the extra pass time and time again. But two occasions in the first half led to shot clock violations. And turnovers in general (they had 14 in the first two quarters alone) plagued Boston as Phoenix’s pesky defense pressured it.
Semi Ojeleye hit an early three, put points were difficult to come by most of the quarter.
That is, until Walker started looking like an All-Star again.
The Celtics closed out the half on a 16-4 run, and the point guard seemed to have a hand in all of it, going head-to-head with Paul to enter the break with 19 points (7-for-8 from the field), three assists and two rebounds.
Boston was up 53-37 at the half.
DON’T GET SLOPPY
Walker remained consistent in the third, but the Celtics couldn’t shake that sloppiness starting the second half.
And through the third, no Celtic but Walker managed hit double-digit scoring.
A Phoenix zone defense was hard for Boston to penetrate as Paul created balanced opportunities for himself, Booker and Mikal Bridges. But with Booker on the bench, the Suns managed a 10-2 run and cut the Celtics lead down to eight points with three minutes left.
But someway, somehow, despite their 20 (!!!!) turnovers, Boston closed it out 77-65.
JUST HOLD ON
Smart and Walker were crucial down the stretch facilitating the ball, but offense still was hard to come by. They found Pritchard on the arch for this beauty, though.
Not long after that, Walker provided more insurance with yet another triple.
Tatum got back into the mix in the fourth with a 26-foot step back jumper over Paul, and the with that, the Celtics essentially got back into the win column.
PLAY OF THE GAME
We can’t not mention this. Smart stole Booker’s lunch.
Boston has a quick turnaround as the Celtics travel to the Brooklyn Nets on Friday for a 7:30 p.m. ET tip.