CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Andrea Walker moved to Charlotte soon after her son Kemba was drafted by the Hornets in 2011, and she spent eight years proudly watching him grow into a man, an All-Star, and a philanthropist here.
She would usually sit right behind the Hornets bench in her “Mama Walker” jersey, and scream so loud and often that her voice became unmistakable to the players on the court.
But on Thursday, when Kemba Walker arrived with the Celtics to play his first game here as an opposing player, his mother was unsure how it would all unfold.
Andrea Walker, who still lives in Charlotte, was wearing a crisp white Celtics jersey with her regular moniker on the back, and she went to will-call to pick up her tickets rather than just breezing through her regular entrance, where everybody knows her name.
“It’s weird to be on this side,” she said as she sat behind Boston’s bench before tipoff, wearing a wristband that still gave her access to areas reserved for Hornets’ family members. “But people have been telling me I look nice in this color.”
A few minutes after that, during pregame introductions, the Hornets showed a tribute video for her son, and there was a standing ovation, and Kemba said he choked up a bit. Then he took the court, and even though he did not sparkle as he has sparkled so many times here, he and his teammates did enough to breeze to a 108-87 win, their sixth in a row.
“I was trying to hold it in [after the video], but I couldn’t,” Kemba Walker said. “I knew I wasn’t going to be able to.”
He finished with 14 points on 4-of-12 shooting. But the fact the Celtics cruised to a 21-point win anyway offered great evidence for why he joined them in the first place. The Hornets could not win many games when Walker had lukewarm nights, but Boston’s lineup is filled with other weapons.
There was Gordon Hayward, seizing command with another powerful first quarter en route to 20 points, 10 rebounds and 6 assists. There was Jayson Tatum, continuing to effortlessly flick in 3-pointers and adding 23 points and nine rebounds. And there was the stingy defense that should not abandon this team even on its quiet shooting nights, holding the Hornets to 38.4 percent shooting and forcing 21 turnovers.
“I thought we really defended,” coach Brad Stevens said. “I thought we really cared about defending, and then we have to clean up some stuff on the offensive end, but we were trying to share it for the most part, and that’s a good thing.”
For the Celtics, the only uneasy moment of the night unfolded when there was a rare — if brief — confrontation involving Stevens and guard Marcus Smart.
Smart appeared to be growing increasingly frustrated with Charlotte’s physical play and the resulting officiating as the game rolled on.
With 6:08 left in the third quarter, Smart was whistled for his fourth foul as he tried to take a charge while Charlotte’s Devonte’ Graham drove to the hoop. Eleven seconds later Smart drove toward the basket and was called for an offensive foul after using his off hand to nudge Graham.
As Smart went to the bench after picking up his fifth foul, he appeared to snap at Stevens. He said later that he was frustrated with the calls that were going against him, and that he wanted to feel like someone was on his side.
“I’m telling him like, ‘At some point you have to step in and say something as a coach. But since you won’t, I’ve got to,’ ” Smart said. “I understand from Brad’s standpoint, but at the same time, from the player’s standpoint, like, you’ve got to step in.”
The two smoothed it over soon after that, though, and Stevens was not concerned about it.
“We need Marcus and I’ve told him a number of times how much we need him,” Stevens said. “But this is the part about Marcus that I love, right? His fire, his competitiveness. If there’s a moment when he’s upset with us, that’s all part of it. We move on pretty quickly. We’ve been together a long time. I’ve been yelled at before and that’s OK. I love him and I trust him. And he’ll get every opportunity.”
Otherwise, the Celtics were mostly in control throughout the night. After falling behind, 7-2, they quickly pushed in front and never trailed again. Their lead swelled to 14 points in the first half, and after the Hornets closed within 41-37, the Celtics created distance with a swift 11-0 run. Boston held a double-digit lead for all but two minutes of the second half.
While it was a comfortable and satisfying return for Walker, it was a forgettable night for his replacement in Charlotte, Terry Rozier. The former Celtics point guard, who signed a surprising three-year, $57 million contract last summer, was 1 for 11 with 3 points, 2 assists and 4 turnovers.