Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Kristaps Porzingis injury: How it impacts both the Celtics and Mavericks

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DALLAS — The NBA Finals got a major shakeup the day before Game 3 (Wednesday, 8:30 p.m. ET on ABC) with the Boston Celtics announcing Kristaps Porzingis had suffered a “rare injury,” putting his status for Wednesday’s game against the Dallas Mavericks — and the rest of the series — in doubt.

Porzingis has a torn medial retinaculum in his left leg, but told reporters Tuesday that he’d do whatever it took to play. However, Boston coach Joe Mazzulla said the final decision would be left in the hands of the team doctors.

Porzingis had missed five weeks with a right calf injury heading into the Finals, but returned for Game 1 and is averaging 16 points on 60% shooting to go along with 2.5 blocks per game in this series, helping the Celtics take a 2-0 lead over the Mavericks in Boston.

So what will this mean for the Celtics and Mavericks? Our NBA insiders break it all down.

1. Fill in the blank: The news on Kristaps Porzingis’ injury was __ .

Tim Bontemps: Concerning. The Celtics have put themselves in a strong position to close out the Finals. Boston is plus-25 in the 44 minutes Porzingis has played in this series, and is even in the 52 minutes he has not. It was already going to be a challenge to control this series on the road the way Boston did in the first two games at TD Garden, but the difficulty level just went up with Porzingis’ uncertain status.

Tim MacMahon: Perplexing. Maybe that’s because the Celtics’ announcement used a bunch of big words that I didn’t learn during my eight-year college tenure to describe the injury. I was also a bit confused by Mazzulla calling it a “serious injury” but Porzingis being listed as day-to-day.

It’s also unfortunately ironic, considering how injuries were a big factor in Porzingis’ disappointing Dallas tenure — and that he hasn’t played a game at American Airlines Center since being traded at the 2022 deadline.

Dave McMenamin: A reminder. As bleak as things might have seemed after falling down 2-0 in Boston, having the series shift back to Dallas and possibly facing a Celtics team missing Porzingis could be just the crack in the doorway the Mavs needed to walk through and make this a competitive series.


2. If Porzingis is limited or out, how does that change the series?

MacMahon: It puts a major emphasis on attacking the paint for the Mavericks. Rim protection is a strength for Boston with Porzingis on the floor, as he allowed the league’s lowest field goal percentage (44.3%) in the paint as a contesting defender (minimum 500 shots), according to Second Spectrum tracking. Dallas’ offense ranked second in field goal percentage on dunks and layups after the trade deadline.

The Mavs also had 54 lob dunks through the first three rounds of the playoffs — the most of any team in a postseason over the last decade, according to ESPN Stats & Information — but Porzingis and the Celtics nullified that threat in the first two games.

McMenamin: Certainly Porzingis’ 16 points per game average on 60% shooting in the series thus far is something that Boston would rather not lose. That said, Al Horford has attempted just 12 shots in these Finals and seen his playing time slashed by about 10 minutes per game to accommodate Porzingis’ return. The 38-year-old showed he has more to give than that, coming up with 22 points and 15 rebounds to close out the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second round and 23 points against the Indiana Pacers to take a commanding 3-0 lead in the conference finals. Not a terrible option if Porzingis can’t go.

Bontemps: Boston’s rim protection suffered at times with Porzingis sidelined, which could open the door for some of the lob action that MacMahon mentioned if Porzingis isn’t able to go. And the other thing to focus on is Horford’s minutes. When he’s been stretched above 30 minutes — and particularly when he’s gotten north of 35 — he’s started to look his age in these playoffs. Coming off a 10-day break and with his minutes under control with Porzingis back, Horford was excellent in the first two games of this series, including being able to switch onto Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving and hold up at times. If he has to start playing heavy minutes — especially with only one off day between Games 3 and 4 — that could have a huge impact.


3. Fact or fiction? Boston can still sweep the Mavs without Porzingis.

McMenamin: Fiction. A sweep on this stage is still a very rare occurrence. It’s happened just twice in the last 20 years (San Antonio in 2007 and Golden State in 2018). If Dallas can generate anything from the outside with the series back at home — after the Celtics won Games 1 and 2 by a total of 25 points despite scoring 39 points from 3 — the Mavs should be able to bring it back to TD Garden for Game 5.

Bontemps: Fact. Do I think Boston will sweep Dallas? No, I don’t. But the Celtics were in control of the first two games of this series while not hitting a lot of shots they normally would, particularly in Game 2. While that is somewhat impacted by Porzingis being potentially sidelined, Dallas still doesn’t have a lot of answers to guard Boston’s starting five. We still haven’t seen Jayson Tatum put together a signature performance yet in this series; he’s more than due to break out.

So, yes, I expect to be headed back to Boston for Game 5, but it’s also within the realm of possibility for the Celtics to claim two road victories. Over the past three postseasons, the Celtics are 20-7 on the road — tied with the Chicago Bulls from 1991-93 for the best road playoff winning percentage over a three-year span in NBA history.

MacMahon: Fiction, but I don’t think the Celtics will pull off a sweep with or without Porzingis. I’d anticipate Irving having a bounce-back performance after playing well below his standards during the trip to Boston. The Mavs sure hope that the old adage about role players performing better at home holds true, as Dallas’ bench averaged just 14.5 points through Games 1 and 2.

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