NBA Playoffs

Kristaps Porzingis' big Game 1 fueled by ‘unreal' support from Celtics crowd

Kristaps Porzingis had 20 points and three blocks in an electrifying return from injury.

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BOSTON -- Before Game 1 of the 2024 NBA Finals tipped off, Kristaps Porzingis was all smiles as he took the court to thunderous applause from the TD Garden crowd.

Porzingis hadn't played since suffering a calf strain in Game 4 of the first-round series vs. Miami, so Boston Celtics fans couldn't contain their excitement the second he was shown on the jumbotron. Their star big man, an unquestionable X factor for the series, was finally back.

Heading into Thursday's matchup, there was some concern over whether Porzingis' calf was 100 percent. The Latvian big man hesitated to answer when asked whether he was pain-free.

He left no doubts about his health when he entered off the bench midway through the first quarter. After another loud ovation, Porzingis went off for 11 points and two emphatic blocks in the opening frame. He was Boston's most impactful player in the first half, logging a game-high 18 points on 7-of-9 shooting.

"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. "The adrenaline was pumping through my veins and that definitely helped.

"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. We got the job done tonight and had a good game, and happy about the result."

Mindful of Porzingis' minutes, C's coach Joe Mazzulla kept veteran big Al Horford in the starting lineup for Game 1. Porzingis had come off the bench only one other time in his nine-year NBA career, way back in the 2016-17 season.

That didn't faze the 28-year-old veteran, whose mind is fixated on the ultimate goal.

"From day one I came here and I said I'll do whatever it takes to help this team win," he said. "I think it was -- this situation, you know, it made sense. I didn't care. I didn't care. I knew I could prepare to come off the bench, which is something different for me, and that's what I did and stepped into that role and embraced it and had a good game."

Porzingis admitted he felt uncertain on Wednesday when asked whether he was pain-free. Having not played for more than a month, it was impossible to accurately predict how he would feel in his return to action.

With 20 points (8-13 FG), six rebounds, and three blocks in 20 minutes, Porzingis got all the assurance he needed that he's good to go.

"All these thoughts like went through my mind in that moment," he said of his hesitant response. "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 100 percent, you know?

"But tonight was an affirmation to myself that I'm pretty good, you know? Maybe I'm not perfect, but I'm pretty good and I can play like this and I can definitely add to this team."

Porzingis' huge first half set the tone for a Celtics blowout. Boston led by as many as 29 points, and besides a brief third-quarter stretch, it was utter dominance from start to finish in the 107-89 win.

Like the fans, Porzingis' teammates are thrilled to have "The Unicorn" back in the mix.

"I think Kristaps has been great for us all season long. I think he's a big reason why we've been the best team in basketball record-wise, at least," Celtics star Jaylen Brown said. "Having him back and him playing well and to that level he was during the season is so important for us because you got another defender, another shooter, out there that you have to respect. So that just opens it up for everybody else."

Brown starred alongside Porzingis in the victory, recording a team-high 22 points to go with six rebounds, three steals, and three blocks. There's plenty of basketball left to be played, but he's on track to add another series MVP trophy to his mantle.

The Celtics will look to take a 2-0 series lead when they return to TD Garden for Game 2 on Sunday. Tip-off is set for 8 p.m. ET. with coverage starting on NBC Sports Boston at 6:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live.

You can watch Porzingis' entire postgame press conference below or on YouTube:

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