INDIANAPOLIS — Kemba Walker poured in a season-high 44 points but the performance wasn’t quite enough, as the Pacers defeated the Celtics on Wednesday, 122-117.
Gordon Hayward took a shot to the face midway through the fourth quarter by Pacers forward Doug McDermott. He appeared dazed as he took a knee and was eventually helped to the locker room and did not return.
That led to Jaylen Brown reentering the game with five fouls, and one play after Malcolm Brogdon drove past him for a layup, Brown committed his sixth foul, leaving Boston considerably shorthanded, as Marcus Smart also missed the game with an illness.
The Pacers pulled ahead, 114-109, on a Justin Holiday 3-pointer before the Celtics made four free throws in a row. With Boston trailing, 118-115, Walker blitzed to the hoop for a layup that pulled it within 1 with 10.2 seconds left.
Brogdon, an elite free throw shooter, got the inbounds pass and was fouled, and he hit them both with seven seconds left. After a timeout, Walker created some space for a deep 3 from the top of the key, but the contested attempt was an air-ball.
Observations from the game:
■ Walker kept the Celtics alive in the first half, particularly during their sluggish first quarter. The All-Star was moving at his own pace as he poured in 24 points and dished out 5 assists before halftime. It would have been quite ugly otherwise.
■ Walker continued to cook in the third quarter, scoring just about however he pleased. He started with two more 3-pointers, and that opened up some driving lanes that he was willing to take. He attacked for a layup, scored on a hesitation, and then had an acrobatic finish over Turner inside. He scored 15 points in the period.
■ On maybe his best play, though, he didn’t score at all. He did well to poke the ball away from T.J. Warren, blitzed upcourt and, sensing a blocked shot, zipped a pretty over-the-head pass to Brown for a reverse slam.
■ Walker could not play the whole second-half, however. He checked out with Boston holding an 87-82 third-quarter lead. Although the Celtics quickly extended their advantage to 10, the offense stalled before Walker came back.
■ Daniel Theis’s hot 3-point shooting continued at the start, as his first-quarter 3-pointer was his fourth consecutive make after a 2 for 14 start to the season.
He told me before the game he’s noticed how some defenses were sagging back on him, and this mini-streak is helping space the floor to allow Boston’s ball-handlers to attack the rim.
■ The latest example of Brown’s improved passing: Late in the first quarter he slid a pretty bounce pass to Walker on a backdoor cut. Brown had five first-quarter assists, tying his career high for a total game. He finished with a career-high 8 assists.
■ This one comes courtesy of Celtics radio play-by-play announcer Sean Grande. When Brogdon hit a 3-pointer to give Indiana a 15-12 lead early in the first quarter, it snapped a streak of 126 minutes, 43 seconds in which the Celtics were either tied or in the lead.
■ Enes Kanter is one of the few Celtics with the size to battle with Indiana’s bigs in the post, but he does not have the speed to keep up with them. The Pacers attacked Kanter in pick-and-rolls. When the 6-foot-6 Grant Williams checked in, Domantis Sabonis had good results by just backing him down and overpowering him, including a 3-point play after which Williams was upset with himself for biting on a pump fake.
■ The Pacers seized control with an 18-2 run in the second quarter, and the surge was ignited by some silly fouls by Boston.
Indiana entered the free-throw penalty pretty quickly, and after that point both Hayward and Brown fouled Brogdon in the backcourt in short order.
■ Carsen Edwards, who starred at nearby Purdue for three seasons, received a loud ovation when he checked in near the end of the first quarter. He drained his first 3-pointer before missing his second.
■ With all the Indiana connections, from Larry Bird to Romeo Langford, there’s always plenty of Celtics jerseys in the crowd here.
A quick glance from my seat above the lower bowl revealed the following: Bird, Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce, Jayson Tatum, Hayward, Edwards, Langford and even Javonte Green.