INDIANAPOLIS -- For the first time in a long time, Kemba Walker had one of those games we saw time and time again in Charlotte.
You know the kind; the ones where he would put the team on his back for most of the night, have a really high scoring night, only to come up short.
Despite a season-high 44-point night by Walker, it wasn’t enough for them to fend off a fourth-quarter surge by the Indiana Pacers that ended with the Celtics losing 122-117 to the Pacers.
Walker eclipsed the 39 points he scored in his first game back from a neck strain Nov. 27 for his best output as a Celtic.
From the opening tip to the final horn, Walker was in a good rhythm shooting the ball. And he wasn’t limiting himself to scoring in one particular fashion, either.
Drives to the basket in transition, drives to the basket in half-court sets; pull-up jumpers and, of course, 3-pointers.
Walker, who was 16-for-28 from the field, was giving the game all that he had to offer on a night when the usual contributors for Boston early on weren’t chipping in at the usual high level he and the Celtics were used to.
And what made the night all that more impressive for Walker is even with shot after shot falling, you never got the feeling he was forcing the action or taking shots that he normally doesn’t take.
Still, in the end, Walker’s impressive performance was reminiscent of those big-time performances he delivered in Charlotte which, much like Wednesday, ended with a loss for Walker and his teammates.
No, this isn’t about Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer or mistletoe or a peppermint latte from your favorite barista.
We’re talking about the Indiana Pacers’ family affair better known as Aaron and Justin Holiday, teammates this season for Indy and brothers for life.
They did their part in trying to ruin this nice run the Celtics (17-6) are on with some strong play at both ends of the floor that time and time again either helped extend a Pacers run or slow down a C's surge. They finished with a combined 35 points (18 for Aaron, 17 for Justin) on 15-for-23 shooting.
Limiting the impact of the bench was not something the Celtics should have been overly concerned with against the Pacers, who came in averaging just 31 points per game from its reserves, which ranks in the bottom 10 of the NBA this season.
Keeping the backups from going off was a problem for the Celtics against Indiana, and if they’re not careful, it will be an issue Thursday night when they face the Philadelphia 76ers, who, like the Pacers, have a bench that doesn’t generate a ton of points. Still, as we saw on Wednesday night, it could be an issue.
The final numbers didn’t tell the true story of how dominant the Pacers were from the free-throw line. Cashing in from the charity stripe was instrumental in Indiana going into the half with the lead and would later be a major factor down the stretch.
Indiana was 30-for-36 from the line compared to the Celtics who were 17-for-22, the kind of differential that proved to be huge in a game that was so nip-and-tuck for most of the night.
Keeping that margin close will be huge on Thursday night against a Sixers team that ranks among the league leaders in free throw attempts per game.
It seems like Gordon Hayward’s luck when it comes to whacky injuries is alive and well. He had nine points on 4-for-8 shooting against the Pacers, but left in the third quarter after taking a hard palm to the nose from Doug McDermott that sent him to the locker room for the rest of the game.
"I did not break my nose, which is good."— Celtics on NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSCeltics) December 12, 2019
Gordon Hayward talked to media after the game to explain what happen to him in the game and how he's feeling pic.twitter.com/EvFek72Qrk
He’s just been back two games after having missed about a month following a left-hand injury.
It’s unclear the extent of Hayward’s injury, which comes at a time when the Celtics are already down Marcus Smart (eye infection) and Robert Williams III (hip), with no clear sense of when either will return.
With both Smart and Williams’ status for Thursday night against Philly unclear, the possibility that Boston will be without all those two and Hayward will make an already daunting challenge that much tougher and put the C's 10-game home winning streak in legit jeopardy.
Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-76ers, which tips off Thursday at 7 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike & Tommy have the call at 8 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.