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Kristaps Porzingis’ comeback in Game 1

Celtics are energized by Kristaps Porzingis’ comeback in Game 1 of the NBA Finals,

Boston — Kristaps Porzingis, playing the sixth man role that Walton once played, helped the Celtics take a huge step toward winning a record-setting 18th NBA championship on a night when the team honored Hall of Famer Bill Walton.

Playing in his first game in over five weeks due to a calf strain he sustained in the first round, Porzingis scored twenty points, pulled down six rebounds, and blocked three shots in only twenty minutes on Thursday night, helping the Celtics defeat the Dallas Mavericks 107-89 in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.

Porzingis faced his old squad in his first postseason match since the opening round.

Jaylen Brown stated, “Kristaps had a monster game for us.” “Just his presence shooting the ball and then him being able to attack those switches and mismatches, he made ’em pay every time, and that’s what we need going forward in the series.”

For the ten days that separated the start of the NBA Finals and the conclusion of the Eastern Conference Finals, which saw the Celtics sweep the Indiana Pacers, Porzingis’s condition had been the main narrative. Since the Miami Heat in Game 4 of the first round, he has not appeared on the field.

While Porzingis stated during media day on Wednesday that he would play, he acknowledged he wouldn’t know exactly how fit he would be until he participated in a game. Porzingis returned to practice last Friday. Thirty minutes prior to Thursday’s tipoff, Boston made the unexpected announcement that Porzingis would be starting off the bench and Al Horford would stay in the starting lineup.

But while the majority of the Celtics were warming up on the court with less than ten minutes left in the pregame clock, Porzingis was shown on the jumbotron making his way to the court. The audience gave him a standing ovation.

When Porzingis checked in with just over seven minutes remaining in the first quarter, he mimicked Walton, who earned the NBA Sixth Man of the Year award while helping the 1986 Celtics win the championship. If there were any questions about how Porzingis would look after he got into the game, they soon vanished.

“I think, obviously, what helped me is just even from the walk out before the game and then getting on the court, getting that kind of support was unreal,” Porzingis said of the crowd’s encouragement. “My veins were pulsating with adrenaline, which was a big assistance.

“Obviously, it wasn’t ideal that I was out for such a long time, but I did everything I could to prepare mentally for this moment coming back, and it paid off, and we got the job done tonight and had a good game, and happy about the result.”

In the first quarter, Porzingis was exceptionally good. After forcing a foul on former teammate Luka Doncic while posting him close to the elbow, he scored his first basket. On the following possession, he made a jumper almost from the same position. That got the Celtics going, as they outscored the Mavericks 25-9 the remainder of the quarter when Porzingis returned and the team was up 37-20. Boston was never going to give up the lead.

With three rebounds, two blocks—including a huge one in space against former Celtic Kyrie Irving—and eleven points at the end of the quarter, Porzingis had a stellar performance. Irving finished with 12 points on 6-for-19 shooting.

Every move Porzingis made was met with thunderous applause from the fans.

“He’s a nightmare opponent,” Derrick White remarked. “He doesn’t actually see you, even when you play excellent defense. It has been incredible to observe him this entire year. On defense, he makes good use of his size and has a wide range of effects on the games. He improves us as a team and transforms us.”

With Porzingis back, the Celtics were able to maintain their eight-man lineup from the previous season, which included guards Payton Pritchard and Sam Hauser coming off the bench, star perimeter players Jayson Tatum, Brown, White, and Jrue Holiday, and Horford and Porzingis splitting minutes at center and making occasional on-court appearances.

The Celtics followed their plan and shot an impressive 16 for 42 from beyond the arc, outscoring the Mavericks by 27 points. Dallas made 7 of 27 long-range shots.

That occurred in part because the Celtics, in contrast to other teams, are able to guard Doncic from home without having to deploy two teams. Despite his fantastic performance, which included 30 points and 10 rebounds, Doncic only had one assist, which was his lowest total for the season and his lowest total in a postseason game.

Dallas committed 11 turnovers and only had eight assists.

But Porzingis’s comeback against his old team was the main storyline of Game 1. Both his game and his calf went perfectly that night on the biggest stage of his basketball career.

“Tonight was an affirmation to myself that I’m pretty good, you know?” stated Porzingis. “Maybe I’m not perfect, but I’m pretty good and I can play like this and I can definitely add to this team.”

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