Knicks guard Kemba Walker looks on against the Washington Wizards...

Knicks guard Kemba Walker looks on against the Washington Wizards in the second half of an NBA basketball game at Madison Square Garden on Thursday, Dec. 23, 2021. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

It was a homecoming of sorts for the Knicks on Thursday night.

Sure, Obi Toppin and Quentin Grimes were activated after missing time because of COVID-19, and RJ Barrett cleared the NBA’s health and safety protocols, too.

But that wasn’t the comeback that had fans ooh-ing and ah-ing and chanting a name they haven’t had much reason to chant this season.

Too bad for them that it didn’t translate into a victory.

The Knicks squandered a Madison Square Garden-shaking performance by Kemba Walker as they failed to contain the Bradley Beal-less Wizards in a 124-117 loss.

Walker scored 41 of his 44 points in the first three quarters and finished with nine rebounds and eight assists. He scored 23 points in the Knicks’ 37-point second quarter and 13 in the third, shooting 12-for-19 overall and 6-for-11 from three-point range in that span.

Walker scored 18 of the Knicks' 20 points in the last 4:51 of the second quarter and the final 11 Knicks points in the last 3:31 of the third quarter.

"It felt great," he said. "I really wish we could have won, to be honest. It’s always tough when you play really well like that and don’t come out on top. It was a very special night."

Walker shot 14-for-27 overall and 7-for-14 from three-point range in 43 minutes — which was 43 minutes more than he played in a recent 10-game span. In the three games since that stretch on the bench, he has averaged 31.3 points and 5.3 assists as a starter.

"He played a monster game, but we came out with a loss, so it’s a shame to waste that type of effort with a game like that," coach Tom Thibodeau said. "When we’re shorthanded the way we are right now, we can’t afford not to play with great intensity on every possession."

Julius Randle had 23 points and Alec Burks 20 for the Knicks (14-18, 6-11 at home). Spencer Dinwiddie had 21 points and 12 assists, rookie Corey Kispert 20 points and Kyle Kuzma 18 points and 10 rebounds for the Wizards (17-15).

Former Net Dinwiddie entered the game shooting 84.1% from the free-throw line but went 4-for-10. Kispert, who made his first NBA start, entered the game averaging 3.9 points in 13 minutes in 26 games.

Montrezl Harrell’s dunk with 10:11 left in the fourth quarter gave the Wizards an eight-point lead, which matched their largest of the game.

Evan Fournier’s corner three-pointer with 2:40 left got the Knicks to within 109-107, but Aaron Holiday quickly answered with a three of his own. Kuzma’s two three-pointers gave the Wizards a 118-111 lead with 56.6 seconds remaining as the Knicks failed to get the stops they needed down the stretch.

Walker went from the starting lineup to completely out of the rotation three weeks ago, but the slew of Knicks in health and safety protocols, along with the fact that Derrick Rose had to undergo surgery on his ankle Wednesday, meant that Thibodeau had little choice but to bring Walker back into the fold.

"It’s all about the work," Walker said. "I’ve been working continuously to stay on top of my game. Some of it came out tonight."

Toppin scored two points in 13 minutes, Grimes didn’t play and Barrett was held out for conditioning reasons, Thibodeau said. For the Wizards, Beal entered the health and safety protocols.

The loss put a pall on the fact that the Knicks finally are beginning to emerge from their COVID fugue.

"Any time you have guys out, it’s an opportunity for other guys to get in there and get it done, so it’s been very encouraging to see guys step up and play well," Thibodeau said before the game. "Obviously, the most important thing is the team winning, and that’s what we have to focus on."