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Porzingis: Off the bench, Porzingis gouges Mavericks...

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Published Time: 07.06.2024 - 14:06:42 Modified Time: 07.06.2024 - 14:06:42

“It doesn’t matter how long he takes off, the guy’s going to make plays because of how talented he is and the work he puts in. What he did for us tonight is big and we need that for the rest of the series.” Porzingis, Kristaps Porzingis, kristaps porziņģis


Within minutes, Porzingis had eight points as the Celtics went up 28-18 and never looked back. He would pile up 18 points, two blocks and three rebounds in 13 first-half minutes. He finished with 20 points and three blocks.

“I know the storyline has to be what’s he going to look like because he’s been off for a month?” Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla said. “But that’s what he’s been doing his whole career. The guy’s a great player. The reason why we’re here is because of what he’s done.

“It doesn’t matter how long he takes off, the guy’s going to make plays because of how talented he is and the work he puts in. What he did for us tonight is big and we need that for the rest of the series.”

Porzingis was believed to be one of the biggest X-factors coming into the Finals. The Celtics had gotten by Cleveland and Indiana in the previous two rounds without him.

But both of those teams were missing key pieces. The Mavericks presented a much stiffer test.

Then, they got blistered by Porzingis’ rim protection, but also his diverse offensive game. He made two of four three-pointers, but was virtually unstoppable from inside the arc (six-of-nine). The Celtics were plus-13 in his 21 minutes.

The fact that Porzingis came off the bench signified just how he felt returning since injuring his leg on April 29.

“From Day One, I came here and I said I’ll do whatever it takes to help this team win, right?” Porzingis said. “I think this situation made sense. I didn’t care. I knew I could prepare to come off the bench, which is something different for me. And that’s what I did, stepped into that role, embraced it and had a good game.”

Better than good. He was the difference-maker. When he went flying to block a Josh Green fast-break shot with scant seconds left in the first quarter, the play preserved a 17-point lead for the Celtics and juiced up the crowd, which already seemed to be pretty rowdy.

And Porzingis knew it.

“Obviously, it helped me from the walk out before the game and then getting on the court, getting that kind of support was unreal,” he said. “The adrenaline was pumping through my veins. And that definitely helped.”

Porzingis said there was still some doubt in his mind being right physically. Being out for five weeks isn’t ideal, he said.

But you couldn’t tell he was fighting any lingering issues.

And Mazzulla said he was certain that having Porzingis come off the bench and keeping Al Horford as the starter at center was the right thing to do.

“(It) gave us the best chance to win,” he said. “And he was great on both ends of the floor, defensive execution, game plan, being physical. And he was making plays on both ends of the floor. I thought he played great. That’s the KP that helped us get to where we are today.”

Porzingis relayed how he found out that he would be coming off the bench.

“We had a conversation,” he said. “He knew I was going to be fine with whatever (he wanted to do). He asked me, what do you think this and I said: of course, let’s do it. It wasn’t no big deal. I trust Joe and he trusts me.”

Porzingis got the Celtics going early, but he also was vital to their success when the Mavericks cut the 29-point deficit they faced in the second quarter to 72-64. He had a cutting dunk and helped stabilize a waffling defense at the time.

“This is a great team, they have a tendency to go on great runs,” Mazzulla said. “That’s gonna happen. You have to be able to manage those with poise and execution.

“KP was a huge part of that. I liked the way we handled their run because that’s going to happen. You’re not going to stop that.”

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