Home Sports 2024 NBA Finals: Kristaps Porziņģis lifts Celtics in return, reminding Boston of what it’s been missing

2024 NBA Finals: Kristaps Porziņģis lifts Celtics in return, reminding Boston of what it’s been missing

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Boston Celtics center Kristaps Porzingis (8) celebrates a three-pointer near Dallas Mavericks center Daniel Gafford (21) during the first half of Game 1 of the NBA Basketball Finals on Thursday, June 2024 in Boston. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

BOSTON – Kristaps Porziņģis ripped off his “Walton” jersey, receiving a standing ovation as he played for the first time in a month, then proceeded to play as the missing piece in the Celtics’ penultimate championship.

Players from the Boston Celtics and Dallas Mavericks honored the late NBA great Bill Walton by wearing a jersey with his name to begin the NBA Finals, and Porziņģis, perhaps unknowingly, conjured up the best possible tribute to the NBA favorite. the fans.

Not only did he set the tone, but everything he did was loud as the Celtics struck first in this best-of-seven series and sent a strong message in Game 1 with a 107-89 victory at TD Garden.

The theme was strong, like Walton’s unmistakable laugh, like Jaylen Brown’s relentless defense of Luka Dončić, like the Celtics crowd getting angry every time Kyrie Irving touched the ball.

But it is Porziņģis who completes this team, whether as a starter, as he has been throughout his career, or from the bench, as was the case for the second time in his nine-year career. The parallels are almost too delicious for the Celtics’ saccharine fan base, as the team honored Walton before the game by showing off his family in a luxury box. Walton was the missing piece on the 1985-86 team, arguably the best of the Larry Bird era. Plagued by injury after such a promising start to his career that included a championship and an MVP, Walton simply needed to be a complementary piece to the legendary front line of Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish.

In short, Walton would have carried Bird’s bags if Bird had demanded it, but his passing, rebounding and activity worked wonders.

For Porziņģis, his highs haven’t touched the sky like Walton’s did in his heyday, but he found the perfect fit in Boston: the three-point happy setup leaves him plenty of room to operate from deep or on the free throw. He lines up against smaller defenders, and his swarm of individual defense funnels unsuspecting drivers off the freeway toward a brick wall at the edge.

He touched them all in the first quarter, turning the game into a rout before the horn sounded. It was hard to believe that he seemed unsure of how well he would play after suffering a calf injury in the first round against the Miami Heat, and he wasn’t acting like a possum.

Twenty points and six rebounds later, not even he could remain pessimistic about himself.

“Yeah, I think obviously what helped me was that even from the moment I left before the game and then I got on the court, getting that kind of support was unreal,” Porziņģis said. “Adrenaline was running through my veins and that definitely helped. Obviously it wasn’t ideal to be away for so long, but I did everything I could to mentally prepare for this moment of return and it was worth it.”

Brown has been one of his biggest supporters and saw Porziņģis come back at full speed before Porziņģis even realized it.

“Was it the first or second trimester? He just made a run where he just hit the three, hit it up the middle, then ran back and got the block at the rim in transition,” Brown said. “He was just making play after play and it was like, okay, he’s back, there was no question about it at the time.”

The Celtics who struggled against shorthanded teams throughout his career allowed Porziņģis to sit until he was fully healthy, and now, Vultron is formed. Brown led the Celtics with 22 points, six rebounds, three blocks and three steals. Jayson Tatum scored 19 with 11 rebounds and five assists.

Ideally, Porziņģis’ presence alongside Jrue Holiday and Derrick White will prevent the two mainstays from feeling like they have to score every point.

Five-part harmony.

Even Mavericks coach Jason Kidd, who only coached Porziņģis for one year before being traded, praised his skill set and almost seemed ready for what was to come.

“We’re a good team when guys are down, but we’re really special when we have everyone,” Tatum said. “I said it before, how seamless his transition was after being out for six, seven weeks, and coming into the game and having a first half like that, it was a big spark for us coming into the game.”

Tatum admitted that he had nerves before the start of the game, but he said they were the good kind, like the first day of school, when you put your best outfit on the bed the night before and your sneakers are very clean because you want to impress everyone around you. They surround me, set the tone.

Tatum didn’t have to be the all-around type, although he’ll likely be required to do so before this series is over. But it was Porziņģis who took center stage.

“I know the story has to be what it’s going to look like because he was out for a month, but that’s what he’s been doing his entire career,” Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla said. “He is a great player. He’s been great for us. The reason we are here is because of what he has done. No matter how much time he is free, the guy is going to make plays because of the talent he has and the work he puts in.”

It’s the addition of Porziņģis and his relative health that puts the Celtics in an almost unenviable position: Simply winning isn’t enough. They have to dominate and do it with style.

Any lull will be carefully analyzed. Maybe it’s playing for the Celtics that does it. Maybe it’s an understatement but being so close to tasting champagne in recent years.

But it’s probably the presence of Porziņģis, who was rescued from the Bad News Bears in Washington after two years in anonymity. A great team became dominant, and that was evident when the Celtics built a 29-point lead before halftime.

“I think you guys had a pretty good idea of ​​that throughout the season, when we were healthy for most of that and how we played and how effective we were on both ends,” Tatum said. “KP had a big influence on that and the success we had this season.”

Of course, there were frustrating moments, the stretches where the Celtics got lost, got a little happy with the 3-pointers, and the Mavericks showed some grit in this series, cutting the lead to eight early in the third quarter.

But the Celtics quickly remembered it, closed the lane where Dončić and Irving began to plant some ground and restored order with a 14-0 run. Dončić led all scorers with 30 points, but his lone assist was the lowest mark of his playoff career, as the Mavericks went an anemic 3-for-15 from 3 outside of Dončić’s production.

And it did nothing more than force the Mavericks to go down the street, where Porziņģis, Al Horford, Tatum and Brown were waiting. Porziņģis and Brown each had three blocked shots, with Brown knocking an Irving layup out of bounds, much to the delight of the still-salty Celtic crowd at Irving’s 2019 departure.

“Every game has its own story,” Brown said. “We just have to be prepared, stay composed and take it one game at a time.”

The story of this one was remembering the smiling redhead and squinting to see the similarities in the man who lumbered down the sideline to cheers that lifted him to heaven.

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