Celtics Used Kristaps Porzingis’ Return To Fuel Game 1 Win Over Mavs

Kristaps Porzingis, Boston Celtics, NBA News, Dallas Mavericks
David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Kristaps Porzingis returned after missing over a month due to a calf injury, propelling the Boston Celtics to a 107-89 victory over the Dallas Mavericks in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.

Porzingis has been sidelined since April 29 but came off the bench in his return to score 20 points, six rebounds, and three blocks in 21 minutes. He scored 11 points in the first quarter alone, helping Boston take a 37-20 lead entering the second period, which ultimately reached a 29-point lead.

“Tonight was affirmation to myself that I’m pretty good,” Porzingis said. “I’m not perfect, but I can play like this and I can add to this team.”

Jaylen Brown led the Celtics with 22 points and was the primary defender guarding Luka Doncic. He added three steals and three blocks, including multiple breakaway steals for finishes against Doncic and some emphatic blocks as an off-ball defender.

NBA NEWS & RUMORS: Kristaps Porzingis, Boston Celtics, Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks Updates

Jayson Tatum finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds. Six players scored in double figures for the Celtics, who host Game 2 on Sunday. Derrick White scored 15. The Celtics hit 16 3-pointers and scored 29 points in the first half.

“Getting back to this point and being here is really a big deal,” Tatum said. “But two years ago, we won the first game, and we know the outcome of that series. We still have a lot of work to do.”

Doncic led the Mavericks with 30 points and 10 rebounds but recorded only one assist, while the team had nine. Still, Dallas struggled to execute offensively outside him since the Celtics’ focus was to guard straight up after switching instead of blitzing to stay home on the Mavericks’ play, finishing bigs and corner shooters.

“They mostly play one-on-one,” Doncic said. “They didn’t send a lot of help. So that’s why.”

NBA NEWS & RUMORS: Kristaps Porzingis, Boston Celtics, Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks Updates

Kyrie Irving was held to 12 points, making only 6 of 19 shots overall and missing all five of his three-point attempts. Irving acknowledged that Boston funneled him to certain spots on the floor by turning him downhill and preventing clean finishes, but he liked the quality of shots he got.

“I think that they really rely on their great defensive ball pressure and one-on-one defenders. They funnel us into certain areas,” Irving said. “Even as I say that, they are relying on the one-on-one, every time I got an iso, there’s almost two, three people waiting for me to get in there. I have to catch the ball on a live dribble and just be aware of my opportunities.

“It’s uncharacteristic for us to have only nine assists. The ball has got to move a little bit more,” Irving explained. “And again, that starts with me just being able to push the pace, get us some easy opportunities, and just adjust to what they are throwing at us.”

P.J. Washington added 14 points and eight rebounds, but the Mavericks couldn’t find a rhythm against Boston’s approach. The only spots Boston was willing to give up was above the break touches to role players who aren’t naturally pure shooters that would hesitate on the catch and potentially over-drive, or not make them pay consistently by simply shooting it.

“We’ve got to move the ball,” Mavericks coach Jason Kidd said. “The ball got stuck too much.”

Irving did engage with the TD Garden crowd at one point, pumping them up when hearing a ‘Kyrie sucks!’ chant. “I thought it was going to be a little louder in here,” Irving said. “I’m expecting the same thing (in Game 2). The crowd’s trying to get me out of my element.”

When using historical data about teams that win Game 1 of the NBA Finals, the Celtics have a 70.0% chance of closing out the series and winning their first championship since 2008. They showed little rust from their 10-day layoff after sweeping the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference finals. They were hot on open and contested shots early, allowing them to manage the game for most of the night before closing it out while making it easier to attack the Mavericks’ interior defense on drives.

Meanwhile, apart from Doncic, who shot 12 of 26 from the field, Dallas struggled to create advantages in the half-court. Boston often crossmatched at the four and five spots, taking their role players out of comfortable play-finishing situations. The Mavericks led by one midway through the first quarter, but the Celtics outscored them 44-16 to make it 58-29 in the second.

NBA NEWS & RUMORS: Kristaps Porzingis, Boston Celtics, Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks Updates

Things changed over the next 12 minutes of game action when Dallas used a 35-14 run, including 15 points by Doncic, to cut Boston’s lead to 72-64. But the Celtics were back up 86-66 entering the fourth. Dallas had just five assists through the first three quarters, the fewest any NBA team has had through 36 minutes in any game in the last three seasons.

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

Porzingis received a loud ovation from the home crowd after he emerged from the tunnel before taking the court to join the team for pre-game warmups. “The adrenaline was pumping through my veins,” he said.

The Celtics will look to take a 2-0 lead in the series on Sunday. They will need to continue their strong team play and get another big game from Porzingis, who is looking to make a big impact in his first NBA Finals appearance.

“I’m not perfect, but I can play like this and I can add to this team,” Porzingis said.

Doncic and the Mavericks remain optimistic despite falling 1-0 in the series. “Either you lose or you win,” Doncic said. “First to four, we’ve got to focus on the next game.”

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