CHARLOTTE — The vaunted Boston Celtics defense gets a shot at 60-point scorer Kemba Walker in his encore performance when the defending Eastern Conference runner-up visits the Charlotte Hornets on Monday night.
Walker exploded for the NBA’s highest scoring game of the season in Saturday’s 122-119 home loss to Philadelphia.
The 60 points included six 3-pointers, allowing him to increase his scoring average to 28.7 points and number of threes made to 58, both now within striking distance of NBA leader Stephen Curry (29.5, 62).
Nothing came easy for Walker or his teammates in three meetings with the Celtics last season, when Charlotte got swept in the season series, averaging just 94.7 points.
Walker managed to top 20 points in all three games (23, 24, 20), but it was the result of high-volume shooting (23-for-54, 43 percent) and only eight 3-pointers (8-for-22, 36 percent).
That said, the Celtics were never seeing Walker coming off a career effort, one that had the point guard gushing afterward.
“I’m still proud,” he said of his franchise-record performance. “That’s an unbelievable thing to do right there. I’m just mad that we lost. I’m a competitor. It would have been even better with a win.”
The loss came in the opener of a tough three-game homestand for the Hornets, who still have the Indiana Pacers ahead on Wednesday night.
The Celtics, meanwhile, just completed a three-game homestand that also featured an overtime classic. They needed the extra period to take down Atlantic Division-leading Toronto 123-116 on Friday night.
Their encore performance wasn’t nearly as special. They fell flat the next night in a 98-86 home loss to Utah. Kyrie Irving had 20 points for the Celtics and Jayson Tatum finished with 10, but no other Boston player scored in double figures.
The defeat left Celtics coach Brad Stevens grumbling about his team’s grit.
“We have to build a tougher team mind-set than we have,” he insisted to reporters after the game. “We just don’t have that mind-set yet that we need.”
A first visit this season to Charlotte means Hornets fans get an opportunity to see Gordon Hayward in a Celtics uniform for the first time since he joined the franchise as a free agent in the summer of 2017.
Hayward is still working his way back to top form after a gruesome leg injury in his Celtics debut last season. He has scored in double figures in three of his last five games but has a pair of seven-point efforts interspersed.
An All-Star with the Utah Jazz who averaged 21.9 points and shot 47.1 percent in his final year before the move, Hayward’s numbers are down to 10.1 points and 39.9 percent this season.
The good news: He’s been able to start 15 of the Celtics 16 games, averaging 26.7 minutes.
Hayward has scorched the Hornets in his career.
He began by contributing to six straight winning efforts for the Jazz over the Hornets, and has more recently gone for 36, 22, 29 and 33 points (29.5 average) in his last four head-to-heads.
The Celtics have beaten the Hornets seven straight times.