Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier’s tenures in Boston ended in disappointing fashion last season, not unlike how their Knicks careers had mostly gone leading up to Saturday night.
But the former Celtics backcourt came alive for their new team in their return to TD Garden, nearly lifting the shorthanded Knicks to a comeback before falling 114-107.
Both guards scored season-highs — Walker with 29 points in his return from being benched and Fournier tying his mark with 32 points, which he set in the season opener against the Celtics. They caught fire in the third quarter, with Walker pouring in 17 points and Fournier adding 11 to turn a 62-47 halftime deficit into an 88-86 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
It wasn’t enough, though, spoiling an otherwise feel-good return to Boston.
“It felt great. A lot of love from the fans, which I really, really appreciated,” Walker said after playing his first game since Nov. 26. “My two years here in Boston were really special. I met a lot of great people. The fans always treated me well. The whole city has always treated me well. So it was really nice to be back.”
Both Fournier and Walker’s nights finished on a sour note. Fournier injured his left ankle late in the fourth quarter after landing awkwardly on a jump shot, though he finished the game on the floor. But seconds later, Walker picked up his sixth foul, ending his return with 2:06 left in the game.
The duo combined to shoot 21-for-44 from the floor and 9-for-21 from deep.
“I was very happy to see [Walker] smiling again,” Fournier said. “We just get along because I think we have a game that can complement each other.”
Before Saturday, Walker had sat out 10 straight games — resting the first game then getting benched by coach Tom Thibodeau for nine more. But after rookie point guard Miles McBride became the sixth Knick to enter COVID-19 protocols earlier on Saturday, and Derrick Rose was ruled out with an ankle injury, Thibodeau had no choice but to turn back to Walker.
It gave Walker — whose four-year, $141 million max contract with the Celtics was derailed by knee injuries — the chance to play against his “brothers” Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart, which he relished.
“I knew they wanted to come at me,” Walker said. “I wanted to go at them as well.”
Fournier had joined Walker and the Celtics in a trade last season, but a bout with COVID-19 set him back. The veteran then largely struggled to settle in with the Knicks early this season, which was recently compounded by what he described as a rib injury he sustained on Dec. 7 against the Spurs.
“I think he’s starting to get into a little bit of a rhythm, which is great to see,” Thibodeau said. “He’s a tough guy.”