2024 NBA Finals

Kristaps Porzingis suits up, plays big off bench in Celtics' Game 1 win over Mavericks

Celtics big man Kristaps Porzingis scores 18 first-half points in his Finals debut after returning from injury.

Kristaps Porzingis recorded 20 points (8-13 FG) and six rebounds for the Celtics in a Game 1 win.

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Boston Celtics center Kristaps Porzingis came off the injury report and returned to play an enormous role in the team’s 107-89 victory over the Dallas Mavericks in Game 1 of the 2024 NBA Finals.

News broke before the game that Porzingis would come off the bench for the series opener. He showed no rust in doing so, leading Boston with 18 first-half points in just 13 minutes of action.

Porzingis, a 7-footer who had been sidelined since April 29, added six rebounds and three blocks in 21 minutes.

“That’s the KP that helped us get to where we are today,” Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla said. “It doesn’t matter how long the guy is off, he’s going to make plays.”

Porzingis ended his 10-game hiatus when he came off the bench with 7:17 left in the first quarter in place of starter Al Horford. With the exception of a white compression sleeve on his right leg, it was hard to tell Porzingis was coming off an injury.

He got into the mix quickly, knocking down a pair of free throws after being fouled by Doncic. A possession later, the Latvian connected in his first field goal when he dropped on a short jumper over Doncic.

He wasn’t done.

Minutes later he got loose in the paint for a two-handed dunk over Derrick Lively. On Dallas’ next possession, Porzingis was there to swat away Jaden Hardy’s layup attempt. The Celtics pushed the ball up the court and got the ball back to their big man, who calmly buried a 16-footer.

It was part of a 17-5 surge by Boston over the final 5:24 of the quarter that saw Porzingis go 4 for 5 from the field, score 11 points, block two shots and grab three rebounds. Boston carried a 37-20 lead into the second quarter.

Porzingis finished the half with 18 points on 7-of-9 shooting.

The team’s quick postseason run — highlighted by 4-1 victories in the first two rounds over the Heat and Cleveland Cavaliers, and a 4-0 sweep of Indiana in the Eastern Conference Finals — has provided extended recovery time for the Latvian.

Despite a reluctance to make predictions on Porzingis’ future availability, Mazzulla expressed little concern about how the center will handle the intensity and physicality of an NBA Finals appearance after spending more than a month off the floor.

Boston is 9-1 this postseason in games Porzingis has missed, but Mazzulla believes the Celtics are a better team with their 7-footer manning the middle.

“Obviously, you can’t simulate the speed and intensity of the game, which I think just comes with a little bit of reps,” Mazzulla said. “KP’s a great player. Just because he’s been out for a month doesn’t mean you have to relearn how to play basketball. I expect him to pick right back up where he left off. Obviously, there will be a little bit of rust.”

Porzingis spoke publicly Tuesday for the first time since May 4, and discussed the “long process” he’s endured in working towards a return. The veteran said he’s taken part in light practices “and I’m feeling much better,” adding that the lack of actual game minutes “hasn’t been perfect” for gauging his level of conditioning.

Porzingis averaged 20.1 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.9 blocks in 57 regular season games. He averaged 14 points, 5.7 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in the Miami series before suffering his latest injury. The former All-Star missed 25 regular-season games in 2023-24, and the Celtics were 21-4 without him.

“I have to feel confident. I don’t want to go out there and be thinking about something,” Portzingis said. “Once I’m out there, it has to be full focus on trying to play the best basketball I can and help this team. It’s not ideal that I haven’t had any real minutes. But I roll with the punches. I’ll just try to be the best I can be with the given circumstances.”

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Information from NBA.com’s Michael C. Wright and The Associated Press were used in this report.