Walker matches season high with 32 points as Celtics cool off Suns

Celtics guard Kemba Walker shoots and scores against Phoenix’s Deandre Ayton, left, and Mikal Bridges while falling backward in the second half Thursday night in Boston. Elise Amendola/Associated Press

BOSTON — Kemba Walker matched his season high with 32 points and the Boston Celtics rolled to a 99-86 victory over the Phoenix Suns on Thursday night.

Walker was 11 of 17 from the field, hitting five 3-pointers. The Celtics were without Jaylen Brown because of a sore left shoulder, and Jayson Tatum struggled shooting for the second straight game, going 3 for 17. He had 15 points and 11 rebounds.

The Celtics led by 21 points in the second half. They have won nine of their last 11.

Coming off a victory in Philadelphia on Wednesday night, the Suns (42-17) dropped two games behind Utah for the best record in the NBA. Phoenix has the NBA’s best road record at 19-8.

Chris Paul had 22 points, eight rebounds and eight assists. Devin Booker finished with 15 points before fouling out with 4:37 left.

Boston took a 66-45 lead in third quarter on a jumper by Tatum. The Suns responded with a 14-2 run and trailed 77-65 entering the fourth.

A 3-pointer by Mikal Bridges got Phoenix to 95-86 with 1:29 left. But a steal and layup by Marcus Smart helped the Celtics close it out.

Walker and Smart both sat out Monday night’s loss to Chicago with non-COVID-19 illnesses. Because of a rare late season break in the schedule, they had two extra days to recoup before Thursday’s matchup.

Walker, who hasn’t played in back-to-backs in order to rest the tender left knee that sidelined him for the first 11 games this season, looked rejuvenated. He connected on his first four shots, including three 3-pointers, during a 19-point first half.

Almost every part of his game was working offensively, from creating space with the dribble for 3s to breaking down defenders and getting in the lane for shorter jumpers or drawing fouls.

TIP-INS

Suns: Scored 24 points off 23 Celtics turnovers. … Jae Crowder (sprained right ankle) and Abdel Nader (sore right knee) were both out.

Celtics: Closed the second quarter on a 16-4 run. … Brown (left shoulder bursitis), Evan Fournier (health and safety protocols) and Robert Williams (sore left knee) all sat out. Williams is day-to-day. Fournier could be back as early as this weekend, Coach Brad Stevens said. … Romeo Langford took Brown’s place in the lineup, making his second start of the season.

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