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Lessons from Celtics-Knicks: the theoretical greatness of Kristaps Porzingis

In the first win of the season, Porzingis showed fans what he’s made of. Potentially.

Boston Celtics v New York Knicks Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

There is simply no interpretation of last night's win over the New York Knicks that doesn’t begin and end with the potential destructive force of Kristaps Porzingis.

At the beginning of the second quarter, ESPN’s Lisa Salters asked Porzingis how his debut with the Celtics was going. Having already scored 15 points, Porzingis responded nonchalantly, “honestly, these guys draw so much attention that I’m just wide open.”

At that point, he had barely begun doing the damage he would eventually inflict upon his former team. But nothing encapsulates what Porzingis could mean for the Celtics better than that. He was already one of the league’s most unique offensive players, but last night saw him free from the chains of a terrible team.

It won’t always be that great, but holy macaroni and chicken thighs was that something.

Boston Celtics v New York Knicks Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

The Porzingis trade may very well go down as an all-time heist for the Celtics. Even at the time, it was surprising that the C’s got two first round picks in addition to Porzingis, and with how he played last night, that looks positively ridiculous.

Even so, getting rid of Marcus Smart was a legitimately traumatic moment. While I came into this season at peace with the trade, Smart had captained every version of this team since I was eleven years old, so this is a brave new world. I’d be lying if I didn’t miss him a little bit last night.

But Wednesday night, we were blessed with the theoretical power of Kristaps Porzingis, and suddenly I was cured of my sadness. He racked up 30 points, eight boards, four blocks, one flop, one mean mug and one elbow-to-Isaiah-Hartenstein’s-face. But even better was how he closed the game, coming through down the stretch when the rest of the team was nowhere to be found.

Boston Celtics v New York Knicks Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

On a meta level, Porzingis directly enabled my adoration, because with four minutes to go I was pretty sure I’d be writing a “we have a long way to go” article. At that point, Jaylen Brown had just thrown two brain-dead turnovers and then fouled a three-point shooter, putting the Celtics down six and selling the game harder than Goldman Sachs tried to sell sketchy mortgages.

But just call Porzingis the federal government, because he bailed out Brown and then some, scoring nine straight to seal the deal and start the season off in the win column. His 30 points were the most ever for a Celtics debut, and looked like the best player on the court in a 4th quarter with three All-NBA players. Not bad.

Porzingis also showed why he might be an alien. Despite his below average defensive foot speed and a less-than-ideal ball handle, Porzingis does stuff that just doesn’t look like it should be possible. It demands a superhuman explanation, and I am left to believe he must be from another planet.

He was cutting backdoor for baselines lobs, hitting step-back threes and cashing 29-footers like it was just a normal Wednesday. He was also putting the ball on the floor and putting together dribble combos, which like…come on. I’m no physiologist, but I’m pretty sure a guy who is 7’3” should not have the offensive bag of Kevin Dura—

Our lawyers have informed me that I’m not legally permitted to compare Celtics-era Porzingis to Kevin Durant after one game. But his combination of explosiveness and shooting at such an extreme size jumped right off the screen, so forgive my crass use of outlandish comparisons.

There is a reason I called Porzingis’ powers “theoretical,” as injuries have more often than not derailed any potential strings of true greatness. That’s concerning, but the Celtics are thankfully able to protect and cover his weaknesses better than any of his previous employers.

Jayson Tatum scored a shockingly casual 34 points, with Jrue Holiday and Brown having subpar offensive games by their standards. The Celtics’ potential success scales directly with how often Porzingis can convert that theoretical greatness into elite shot making, particularly when others are struggling.

Porzingis’ best effort was needed tonight, but it won’t be every night. Hopefully that can get him across the finish line.

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