BOSTON, MA – “That was insane,” Kristaps Porzingis said of the TD Garden crowd following the Boston Celtics’ preseason win over the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday. “That was insane for a preseason game. I don’t know what to say.”
Porzingis made his debut in a Celtics jersey on Sunday. It may have just been a preseason game, but the atmosphere inside The Garden was that of a playoff classic.
“I mean, it was a fun game to play in, a fun game to watch at the end when Payton [Pritchard] was going off, and the whole crowd was into it,” said Porzingis.
He was the first Celtics introduced in the starting lineup pre-game, and he ran down the line of his teammates with a massive grin on his face as the crowd roared. And with the fans behind him, Porzingis nailed a three to open up the scoring. Once again, the building erupted.
“I was just supposed to stand in the corner,” Porzingis said of the play. “But the ball came to me, my teammates found me, and I hit the open shot.”
The Latvian big man joined the Celtics by way of a three-team deal with the Washington Wizards and Memphis Grizzlies this summer. The same trade that saw long-time Celtic Marcus Smart make a departure that nobody saw coming.
With the pressure of being traded for a fan-favorite and a summer injury scare hanging over his head, Porzingis looked comfortable in his unofficial debut.
Joe Mazzulla rolled out a starting lineup of Derrick White, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Al Horford, and Porzingis, bringing fellow newcomer Jrue Holiday off the bench. The Celtics have a new look this year, and Porzingis will be a focal point.
“That was a good start we had there. It felt good that that was our first kind of official game together, and I think it’s a good first step to keep building our chemistry,” said Porzingis.
Porzingis finished the game with 17 points, five rebounds, and one assist while shooting 5-of-7 from the field and 2-of-3 from behind the three-point line.
While he only recorded seven shots, the ball was finding Porzingis early and often in the Celtics’ offense. Fresh off a season where he averaged 23.2 points on 49.8% shooting from the field (both career-highs) and 38.5% from distance, he was ready to capitalize on his newfound opportunities.
“I think it’s just naturally going to happen at times because of the mismatches and the two-on-ones he’ll create and his ability to pass it, shoot it, [and] drive it,” Mazzulla said of Porzingis’ opportunities within the offense.
Boston swapped out depth for top-end talent this summer, with Porzingis being a centerpiece of the shift. And while the Celtics will need to configure a consistent depth rotation, the magnitude of their star power was clear against Philadelphia.
“They draw so much attention that it opens the game up for myself, and I think that’s what happened early on,” Porzingis said of his new star teammates. “As I said, the more time we get together playing, the better reeds we’ll make off of each other and defensively.”
Porzingis earned 24:34 of playing time in his (kind of) Celtics debut, as Mazzulla rolled with the starters deep into what was a tightly-contested game.
Pritchard eventually helped the Celtics close out a comeback win, and while he stole the spotlight at the end, Porzingis’ dominance was undeniable. With Tatum, Brown, Holiday, and a slew of elite role players by his side, he should have more freedom than ever to be at his best.
At Celtics Media Day, Porzingis’ smile persisted throughout his press conference. During the starting lineup intros on Sunday, it was back. And when asked about the TD Garden crowd after the game, lo and behold, Porzingis couldn’t help but let a smile creep onto his face once again.
“I’m very happy to be a Celtic, I’m not going to lie.”