Mavericks have a big problem in NBA Finals: Celtics big man Kristaps Porzingis (2024)

BOSTON — Kristaps Porzingis, an all-too-familiar, but usually friendly face, came out scowling.

The former Maverick entered Thursday night’s Game 1 of the NBA Finals with his Celtics leading by one and immediately transformed into a 7-foot-2 human tornado, wreaking all manner of havoc upon Dallas.


The ease of Boston’s 107-89 victory in TD Garden slapped the Mavericks’ collective face with a multitude of concerns about which they’ll have to stew during the two-day wait to Sunday’s Game 2 here, but the specter of Porzingis looms atop the list.


Mavericks’ Game 1 letdown vs. Celtics leaves Dallas in need of super fix before Game 2


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“He was great for them,” said Luka Doncic, who scored a team-high 30 points but had only one assist. “He was knocking down shots; he was blocking shots. He was really, really huge for them on both ends of the floor.”

Porzingis, playing for the first time since sustaining a calf injury on April 29, rocked Dallas for 20 points, six rebounds and three blocks in a mere 20 minutes. In seven first-quarter minutes, he had 11 points, three rebounds and three blocks.


Just two days ago, Porzingis hesitated when asked by reporters whether he is 100% recovered from the calf injury that he sustained five weeks ago.

“All these thoughts like went through my mind in that moment,” he recalled Thursday night. “Like, ‘What do I answer?’ I want to say I’m fine, you know, but obviously I haven’t played, I haven’t been out there, I haven’t had the feel of like am I a hundred percent, you know?

“But tonight was an affirmation to myself, no, that I’m pretty good Maybe I’m not perfect, but I’m pretty good and I can play like this and I can definitely add to this team.”

Mavericks have a big problem in NBA Finals: Celtics big man Kristaps Porzingis (1)

Even when asked to come off the bench Thursday and play limited minutes, Porzingis was more than good enough to present a giant problem for the Dallas franchise that traded him to Washington in 2022.

It’s not merely his numbers of 7-2 physical presence. It’s also the fact that Boston’s Porzingis-led five-out offense all-but-eliminated one of Dallas’ greatest playoff-run assets — its Daniel Gafford-Dereck Lively II one-two center punch.


Gafford and Lively combined for 10 points, eight rebounds and zero blocks in 32 minutes, while Celtics counterparts Porzingis and Al Horford combined for 30 points, 13 rebounds and five blocks.


It wasn’t only Dallas’ big men who had difficulty guarding the perimeter. Boston made 16-of-42 3-pointers and became the first team in Finals history to have seven players make multiple treys.

“We just have to stay connected, stay together,” Mavericks forward P.J. Washington said. “I felt like we let the crowd get to us a little bit; let the refs get to us; let them making shots get to us. But at the end of the day, we just have to stick together and be ourselves.

“We are a great team. They are a great team. At the end of the day, we’re all right. It’s only one game.”


Five thoughts: Mavericks overmatched, outplayed in Game 1 loss to Boston Celtics

The thoroughness of No. 1 seed, 64-win Boston’s victory left all the earmarks — or should we say footprints on the Mavericks’ faces — of this being a short series, but Dallas repeatedly has bounced back all season, and through the first three rounds of the playoffs.

The Mavericks’ biggest loss of the playoffs was by 22 points in Game 1 at Oklahoma City, a series that Dallas won in six games. The Mavericks also opened the postseason with a 12-point road loss to the Clippers — and won that series in six games.

Trailing by as much as 29 points in the first half — 58-29 — Dallas outscored Boston 22-9 to start the second half, trimming the deficit to 72-64 on a Doncic 3-pointer with 4:28 left in the third quarter.


Dallas got a stop on the next Celtics possession, but after getting the defensive rebound, Lively was called for traveling.

“From that point on, they took control of the game,” Mavericks coach Jason Kidd said.

Before the game, Kidd cited the fact that Boston had the NBA’s No. 2-ranked defense this season, and that it would be incumbent on co-quarterbacks Doncic and Kyrie Irving to make the right decisions in pick-and-roll actions.

“We truly believe those two will make the right decisions,” he said.


Dallas, however, had only five assists through three quarters. According to Associated Press research, that’s the fewest any NBA team has had, in any game, through 36 minutes in the last three seasons.

The Mavericks finished with only nine assists. Irving, making his return to Boston, which he left acrimoniously in 2021, had only two assists and shot 6-of-19 from the field, 0-5 from 3-point range.

“That’s very uncharacteristic of us,” Irving said. “The ball has got to move a little bit more. 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.”

The TD Garden crowd booed Irving every time he touched the ball, at several points breaking into “Kyrie sucks!” chants.


“It’s not the first time I’ve lost in Boston,” said Irving, who fell to 1-11 against the Celtics since leaving the franchise in 2021, including 0-6 in TD Garden. “I don’t want to continue to make it a habit, but they’ve had a few games over me.

“They have our number — not our number, I don’t want to say our number. But the past few teams I’ve been on, they have had my number a little bit. You have to give credit to a good team. They have been good the past three or four years.”

The Mavericks entered the Finals having won five straight and seven of their last eight road games. Their road dominance included their Western Conference Finals-clinching blowout win in Minneapolis a week ago.

The Mavericks have been impervious to difficult road settings, but they knew TD Garden would be the most raucous of all. The crowd certainly was a big factor Thursday, especially early, when Porzingis led the Celtics to a 37-20 lead after one quarter.


That’s when it became glaringly apparent that Dallas has a big problem in this series. A 7-2 Porzingis problem — and the domino effect of other issues that creates.

NBA Finals Game 1 photos: Dallas Mavericks vs. Boston Celtics



Mavericks have a big problem in NBA Finals: Celtics big man Kristaps Porzingis (2)

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Mavericks have a big problem in NBA Finals: Celtics big man Kristaps Porzingis (2024)
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