Here’s what we saw:
1. Greeted by the loudest pregame cheers he’s received this season, Kemba Walker returned to the starting lineup. Walker was not playing with a minutes restriction, after sustaining a neck strain following a scary collision in Boston’s game against the Denver Nuggets last Friday. The injury forced Walker to miss only one game — Monday’s win against the Sacramento Kings — snapping his streak of 158 consecutive games played. With Walker’s return, the Celtics assigned point guard Tremont Waters back to the G-League.
2. In his return, Walker did not seem limited in the slightest. With his mom sitting courtside, he dropped a season-high 39 points on 13-for-24 shooting, including a 6-for-10 performance from behind the arc. Walker was also a perfect 7 for 7 at the free-throw line. Stevens credited Walker for helping the Celtics stay in the game when the Nets drained 10 threes in the second quarter to take a 63-57 lead heading into halftime. Walker said he wasn’t thinking about his injury while on the floor, just that he wanted to win and “play with intensity.” When he checked out of the game for the final time in the fourth quarter, with the victory secured, Walker received a standing ovation.
(Meanwhile, Waters also racked up 33 points in the Maine Red Claws’ 155-131 victory over the Greensboro Swarm.)
3. Fan-favorite Tacko Fall was back in Boston, walking into the Garden with forward Semi Ojeleye. Fall did not sit on the bench with the team, as he was not formally recalled from the Red Claws. The 7-foot-5 — err, 7-foot-6 if you ask him — center was in town to receive treatment on a bruised right knee he suffered in the Red Claws’ game on Monday. Fall is expected to be re-evaluated in one to two weeks.
4. The anti-Kyrie Irving chants started early, drowning out the video played on the center-court video board prior to the starting lineup introductions. The jeers varied from “Kyrie sucks” to “Where is Kyrie?” to “Kyrie who?” There was no rhyme or reason to when the crowd decided to break them out, as they rained down when the Celtics were both trailing and leading — and once when Daniel Theis was at the free-throw line. By my count, the crowd started some form of chant a total of 12 times. When Stevens challenged a blocking foul on Semi Ojeleye with 9:23 remaining in the fourth quarter, fans used the downtime from the video review to start their loudest “Where is Kyrie?” of the night.
Some even brought signs, such as one that had featured Walker’s face, a greater than sign, and Irving’s face (in that order). Plenty of No. 11 T-shirts and jerseys were also spotted in the sellout crowd, with Irving often crossed out in favor of center Enes Kanter. Others, however, opted to keep Irving’s name across the top and wrote, “Where’s,” above it and question marks below it.
5. Rapper Gucci Mane was in the building. New this season, the Celtics have added a lower-third graphic to the jumbotron, helping to identify celebrities or athletes in attendance. Personally, I will miss the fun in seeing if I could recognize those shown on the screen.
6. Jaylen Brown turned in yet another solid performance, bringing defensive intensity and posting a double-double — his third of the season — with 22 points and 10 rebounds. He added to his highlight reel late in the first quarter when he worked Nets guard David Nwaba in the post with a spin move to create a turnaround fadeaway jumper. Moments later, he threw down an emphatic, two-handed running dunk. Brown has eclipsed 20-points n each of Boston’s last three games. He said there’s nothing special behind his latest groove; he’s just “being aggressive.”
“The two games coming home, he’s obviously been really good,” Stevens said. “He ended the road trip well with his play in the second half of that Denver game. I thought that that kind of carried over. He’s just been solid on both ends.”
Also notable from Brown this season: His free-throw percentage is a career-high 74.1, up from 65.8 last year.
JAYLEN BR💥WN pic.twitter.com/gNcUbX66VS
— Boston Celtics (@celtics) November 28, 2019
7. Shooting guard Marcus Smart received multiple “M-V-P” chants, the first coming when he was at the free-throw line and the second coming when he once again dislodged a stuck ball from behind the backboard. A staffer initially went to free the ball, but the crowd quickly beckoned Smart, who had done the honors on Monday as well. Smart finished with a team-high individual plus-minus of plus-21.
”We knew when that ball got stuck today, there was only one man to get it down,” Stevens joked.
8. Wednesday teased what could become a fun rivalry in the Eastern Conference. Though the Celtics pulled away for an 11-point win, there were nine lead changes and 11 ties. With Irving and superstar Kevin Durant back in Brooklyn’s lineup, the two teams are likely to have some competitive battles in the future. Plus, the vitriol for Irving — deserved or not — doesn’t seem to be dwindling anytime soon.