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Published Time: 07.06.2024 - 07:00:45 Modified Time: 07.06.2024 - 07:00:45

BOSTON – Under the banners won and jersey numbers worn by some of the NBA’s most famous “sixth men” – Frank Ramsey, John Havlicek, Kevin McHale, Bill Walton – Kristaps Porzingis etched his name for a night into their ranks. NBA Finals, celtics vs mavericks, Celtics, boston celtics

BOSTON – Under the banners won and jersey numbers worn by some of the NBA’s most famous “sixth men” – Frank Ramsey, John Havlicek, Kevin McHale, Bill Walton – Kristaps Porzingis etched his name for a night into their ranks.

Playing in his first game in more than five weeks, the 7-foot-2 center came off the bench to spark Boston to its 107-89 victory in Game 1 of the Finals Thursday at TD Garden.

Working in reserve for only the second time in 473 games over his nine-year career, Porzingis – back from a strained right calf – entered to a roar with 7:17 left in the first quarter and his team trailing 12-11.

“Getting that kind of support was unreal,” he said later. “The adrenaline was pumping through my veins.”

Over what remained in that quarter, Porzingis lit up the Mavericks for 11 points. He personally outscored Dallas in Boston’s 26-8 close to that period, and he added seven more points in the 5:41 he played in the second quarter.

Porzingis was plus-15 in 13 minutes by halftime and had outscored the entire Mavericks bench 20-4 through three quarters. That included a sequence deep in the third after Dallas had scratched back to within 72-64. Two trips later, Porzingis attempted a 3-pointer, missed, then broke toward the basket. Jayson Tatum had grabbed the rebound and gave the ball right back for a slam. The Celtics kept going for a 14-0 run and had their cushion back at 86-66 heading into the fourth.

His size helped defensively, too, contending with Dallas’ big options up front – Daniel Gafford and Dereck Lively II combined for just 10 points and eight rebounds – while clogging space where the Mavs’ dynamic guards generally like to drive.

Let’s not neglect the emotional jolt Porzingis brought to the Celtics and the sold-out arena. It was one thing to make it through 37 days of the NBA postseason without their starting center – they went 9-1 in his absence against Miami (against whom he got hurt), Cleveland and Indiana. But it was going to be a far greater challenge for Boston to cope with Luka Doncic, Kyrie Irving and Dallas’ pogo-stick centers without Porzingis’ three levels of scoring and rim protection.

Porzingis on the performance: “It’s kind of like a blur to me right now. I have to re-watch the game, what happened and stuff, but I was completely just in the game. That’s the best feeling.”

Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla: “Listen, I know the storyline has to be, what’s he going to look like because he was off for a month, but that’s what he’s been doing his whole career. He’s a great player. He’s been great for us. The reason why we are here is because of what he’s done. It doesn’t matter how long he takes off, the guy is gong to make plays because of how talented he is and the work he puts in.”

Porzingis on Mazzulla talking with him the bench role: “I know he knew I was going to be fine with whatever, you know, so he just told me, what do you think, like, this. And I said, of course, like, let’s do it. And that’s it. Wasn’t no big deal and I trust Joe and he trusts me.”

Celtics center Al Horford: “KP got to an unbelievable place there early in the first half, in the first quarter, and I just felt like it really got us going and took us to another level as a team.”

Teammate Jaylen Brown: “It was amazing. Nobody’s more proud and more excited for him than I am. … He’s a big reason why we’ve been the best team in basketball record-wise, at least, and having him back and him playing well and to that level he was during the season is so important for us because you got another defender, another shooter, out there that you have to respect.”

Porzingis on wondering rust, conditioning or his calf: “A little bit of everything, right. It’s tough to not play for a month and then jump into the highest intensity game in the Finals. … I did everything I could to prepare for this moment, like mentally, and then just going out there and playing instinctually almost and trusting my body.”

The unknown is whether Porzingis can contribute at this rate for the rest of the series or even in Game 2 on Sunday. Neither he nor anyone else knew late Thursday how his calf will respond to the demands put on it or how it will feel in the coming days.

Steve Aschburner has written the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on X.