Kristaps Porzingis, Celtics take first step in proving doubters wrong

BOSTON — All you need to know about Game 1 was Kristaps Porzingis was the best player.

He was better than Luka Doncic. He certainly was better than Kyrie Irving.

Porzingis’ minutes were limited after over a month of missing games because of a calf strain, but his impact was impossible to ignore in Thursday’s 107-89 Celtics cakewalk over the Mavericks on Thursday night.

Jayson Tatum shots around Dereck Lively II during the third quarter of the Celtics’ 107-89 win over the Mavericks in Game 1 of the NBA Finals. David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

“It was amazing,” Jaylen Brown said of his teammate and friend. “Nobody’s more proud and more excited for him than I am.”

Somewhere in his Montana lake house, or wherever he’s dwelling these days, Phil Jackson could also be proud. Porzingis was his highest draft pick and best executive move, way back in 2015. Sure, Jackson also screwed it up. He screwed up everything in the end. But all of Porzingis’ star attributes — the ones we witnessed in spurts while he wore a Knicks uniform — were on display on the biggest stage.

The Latvian scored 20 points with three blocks in just 21 minutes off the bench, injecting the home team with all the energy and production necessary to dominate Game 1.

“He was comfortable. We shouldn’t let that happen,” Mavericks center Dereck Lively II said. “We let him get too comfortable, too early into the game. We got to learn from that. Be better than that. He’s a shooter. We all know that. So we got to limit his comfortability, limit the shots he takes.”

Irving, on the other hand, didn’t hit his shots. He was greeted with boos inside his former home, as expected, and struggled mightily with just 12 points on 6-for-19 from the field. Outside they were selling a shirt with a message “F— Kyrie,” and another with an image of Irving’s face with a clown nose.

Then the polarizing guard bombed. He was joined in struggles by Doncic, who recorded just one assist.

“I felt like I had a lot of great looks,” Irving said. “They hit back rim or were just a little left or right.”

Kristaps Porzingis celebrates after hitting a 3-pointer during the first half of the Celtics’ Game 1 victory. AP

The Celtics still have to prove it.

That’s been the sentiment surrounding this team, the narrative, because they’ve been so close for so long that you forget Boston’s Core-2 is only in its mid-20s. You doubt these Celtics because they’ve never done it before.

And that first championship is always the hardest.

But after watching them dismantle the Mavericks, there are good reasons to bet this is the year that Larry O’Brien returns to Beantown. The Celtics have been stuck on 17 titles for 16 years. They lost the 2022 Finals. They choked away the 2023 conference finals to the Miami Heat, and, along the way, established a reputation — particularly Jayson Tatum — of folding when it really matters.

There were concerns it would happen again Thursday. Boston’s 29-point advantage dwindled to eight in the third quarter.

But this time, the Celtics rose to the occasion instead of collapsing. Their lead ballooned to 19 to start the fourth quarter.

Kyrie Irving questions referee Courtney Kirkland after he was called for a foul, as Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum listens during the second half of Celtics’ Game 1 victory. AP

Game over.

Dallas coach Jason Kidd waved the white flag with five minutes left, removing his starters. The Celtics didn’t need Tatum to do much because of the depth they built around him. In fact, Tatum only scored 16 points on 6-for-16 shooting. It was the rest of the roster that carried Boston in front of a raucous crowd.

Starting with Porzingis. He missed 10 straight games and over five weeks with a calf injury, and his effectiveness was probably the biggest question heading into Game 1. Then Porzingis scored 18 of his 20 points in the first half.

The X-factor factored in Game 1.

“He was great, he knocked down shots. He changed shots. He blocked shots. He gave them a spark when he came off the bench,” Kidd said. “We’ve just got to make it a little bit tougher on the offensive end. We’ve got to make him do something different. He got great looks and knocked them down.”

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