INDIANAPOLIS — Gordon Hayward was in the locker room being evaluated for a concussion. Marcus Smart was in street clothes as he deals with an eye infection. Jaylen Brown was on the bench after collecting his sixth foul.
But the way Kemba Walker was drilling one shot after another from one difficult angle after another throughout this game against the Pacers, it was fair to wonder if all those absences could be overcome for just a few more minutes.
Walker already had a season-high 44 points when he caught an inbounds pass with his team trailing Indiana by 3 with seven seconds left. He shook T.J. Warren with a left-to-right crossover and created enough space for a good but deep look from the top of the key.
But this shot did not go in, and it did not even hit the rim. In fact, it missed so badly that Walker was certain that Warren had gotten a fingertip on it, even though review showed that he had not.
And that was the final moment that mattered in Boston’s 122-117 loss. Not Walker’s powerful performance. Not Boston’s comeback from a 13-point deficit.
“I just knew I had to get something up,” Walker said. “It was a tough shot. It had no chance.”
Walked did not have one last drop of magic left, but the Celtics would not even have been in that position without him. He made 16 of 28 shots and added 7 assists, 3 rebounds and 2 steals over his 35 minutes.
While the Celtics have been spectacular at TD Garden, rolling to a 10-0 record, the damage they have done on the road has mostly come against inferior competition. With Wednesday’s loss they are now 0-5 on the road against teams that currently have winning records.
The good news is that their next game will come on Thursday at home. The bad news is that they are banged up, and they have to face the 76ers.
Midway through the fourth quarter on Wednesday, Hayward was hit in the face by Doug McDermott. Hayward eventually took a knee as members of the team’s medical staff tended to him, and he walked to the locker room to be evaluated for a concussion.
He said he felt dizzy after being hit and that he had a headache after the game. Stevens and Hayward said that initial tests did not indicate a concussion, but that there would be further evaluation after returning to Boston.
“Hopefully by [Thursday] it should be good,” Hayward said. “So we’ll see tomorrow morning.”
Smart missed his second game in a row due to an eye infection. Stevens said his vision was blurry on Wednesday and that they used some new eye drops to help the issue. As Smart left the locker room following the loss, he said he was feeling better, but that he did not know if he would face Philadelphia.
On Wednesday, Boston was ultimately undone by a grisly stretch at the start of the fourth quarter that unfolded while Walker was on the bench. The Celtics led by 10 when their lineup, which consisted of four reserves and Jayson Tatum, was gashed by the Pacers’ bench-heavy group that featured brothers Justin and Aaron Holiday, who combined for 35 points on 15 of 23 shooting .
Indiana needed less than three minutes to whittle its deficit to 2 before Stevens called for reinforcements. But Boston had missed its chance to pull away.
“That start of the fourth quarter with all those turnovers and the way we were getting outplayed, that second unit really took it to us,” Stevens said.
Stevens called timeout and put starters Hayward, Brown and Daniel Theis back in. Brown quickly collected his fifth foul and Hayward suffered his head injury. Walker already had 39 points, and Stevens found himself in a difficult spot as the lead was being frittered away.
“It’s hard,” he said. “Obviously, I want him in right away, but he had played all the way to the 1:30 mark of the third so you’re balancing that with making sure he’s fresh when he comes back in and sometimes when you’ve carried the load a whole night for a team you need a little more of a break.”
Brown fouled out with 1:59 left, all but leaving Walker on his own to find a way to gather this win. After Indiana stretched its lead to as many as 5 points, Walker blitzed to the hoop for a layup that pulled the Celtics within 118-117 with 10.2 seconds remaining.
But Malcolm Brogdon (29 points), an elite free-throw shooter, gathered the inbounds pass and was fouled. Walker clapped his hands in frustration afterward, upset that Boston had not forced the ball into someone else’s hands. Brogdon hit both attempts with seven seconds left, and the Celtics did not score again.
Although Walker finished with 44 points, his high as a Celtic, it did not mean very much to him at the end.
“I felt pretty good, I guess,” he said. “But it really don’t matter. We lost.”