Adding a 7-foot-3, floor-spacing big man to a lineup is bound to create some new opportunities. But for the Boston Celtics, the addition of Kristaps Porzingis has done more than simply concoct unique looks on offense. It’s completely changed the way they play.
Porzingis’ presence on the floor alone has been instrumental to the Celtics’ offense, and in their win over the Toronto Raptors on Saturday night, his influence was as clear as it’s been all season.
Jakob Poeltl drew the task of guarding Porzingis, but with the Latvian big man’s ability to shoot from range, the Raptors center was often lost in space, struggling with whether to press up at the three-point line or drop back into the paint, his usual style of defense.
“Tonight was a game where they’re playing in a drop coverage, so a lot of the plays were going through me, or I was open on the perimeter and just shooting threes,” Porzingis said post-game. “So, each game is different, but D-White, Jrue, JB, JT, they’ve been finding me all the time and getting me involved. I feel like each game, our chemistry is getting better.”
When Porzingis popped and Poeltl sunk back, he was open at the three-point line. Once the Raptors got used to that rhythm, they adjusted. But so did Porzingis.
The new Boston big man began rolling to the rim with force, opening up passing pockets for Jaylen Brown, Jrue Holiday, and everyone else to find him, leading to easy looks in the paint and giving whoever was handling the ball ample time to make a play.
“He was able to help our pick-and-roll ball handler get some separation away from the screen, and they weren’t veering at first,” said head coach Joe Mazzulla. “So, we were able to throw back and get into a closeout and kind of create just a second-side action.
“Once they started veering, we were able to get their bigs away from the rim, and that’s when we were able to either give it to him in the post or we were able to drive it without any rim protection.”
Whenever Porzingis was the one setting the screen, Toronto was sent into a frenzy of panic, unsure of what Boston’s next move would be. Ultimately, it was their inability to account for Porzingis that cost them the chance to keep the game close.
Porzingis finished the game with 21 points, seven rebounds, and three assists, but it was his efficiency that stood out. He shot 9-of-14 from the field and 3-of-7 from behind the three-point line, utilizing his elite offensive skillset to pick the Raptors apart.
Having Brown and Jayson Tatum leading the way is enough to give opposing teams fits, but the inclusion of Porzingis makes the Celtics even more impossible to guard. When he’s setting the screen for Brown, Tatum, or even one of Boston’s star guards, the offensive options are endless.