Saturday, June 8, 2024

Kristaps Porzingis on his return in Game 1: 'Maybe I'm not perfect, but I'm pretty good'

Kristaps Porzingis quickly put any concerns to rest following a 20-point performance in his long-awaited return, as the Celtics cruised to a 107-89 victory over the Dallas Mavericks.

After checking in at the 7:17 mark of the opening quarter, Porzingis made an immediate impact -- scoring 11 points and blocking two shots in the period and by halftime had 18 points. The seven-footer received several ovations from the TD Garden faithful throughout Game 1, while going 8-of-13 from the field.

Porzingis, who missed the last 10 games over the past 38 days with a soleus strain in his right calf, was not certain what to expect once the NBA Finals began following the lay off.
"I want to say I'm fine, but obviously, I haven't played," Porzingis told reporters. "I haven't had the feel of like, 'Am I 100 percent?' But tonight was an affirmation that I'm pretty good. Maybe I'm not perfect, but I'm pretty good and I can play like this. I can definitely add to this team."
Porzingis sparked a 44-16 run that gave the Celtics a 58-29 advantage with 4:11 left in the first half -- the largest of the night -- never giving up a lead the rest of Game 1, even when the Mavs cut the deficit to as much as eight.
"Even in the first quarter, when I checked in to start and things were going my way, I didn't even think about it," Porzingis said. "I was so in the moment and enjoying the moment, the crowd and everything. I don't know, it’s just kind of a blur to me right now. I have to rewatch the game, what happened and stuff.

"I was completely just like, in the game. That's the best feeling. I had the most fun and I hope to have more of those moments moving forward."
Thursday was the first time Porzingis had played beyond the first-round in his playoff career and only the second occasion where he came off the bench as a pro. C's coach Joe Mazzulla spoke on how playing  Porzingis "gave us the best chance to win," but was not surprised with the end result.
"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," Mazzulla said in his postgame presser. "That guy's a great player. He's been great for us. The reason why we're here is because of what he's done. So, it doesn't matter how long he takes off, that 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're going to need that for the rest of the series."
According to Porzingis, he had no issues coming off the bench, as he played just 21 minutes in the win over his former team.
"From Day 1, I came here and said, 'I'd do whatever it takes to help this team win,'" Porzingis said. "This situation, it made sense. I didn't care. I knew I could prepare to come off the bench, which is something different for me. That's what I did. I stepped into that role and I embraced and had a good game."
Despite the Celtics going 9-1 in Porzingis' absence throughout the postseason, Jaylen Brown replied with an emphatic "yes," when asked if the roster felt complete with the return of their star big man.
"Kristaps has been great for us all season long," Brown said in his postgame comments. "I think he's been a big reason why we've been the best team in basketball, record-wise at least. Having him back, playing well, and to that level he was at during the season, it's so important to us because we've got another defender, another shooter out there that you have to respect. So, that opens it up for everyone else."
The Celtics will host the Mavericks Sunday, with Game 2 scheduled to tip-off at 8:00 pm ET on ABC.  

Joel Pavón

Photo used courtesy of The Boston Globe

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