With four seconds remaining in the Boston Celtics’ 127-123 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, Kristaps Porzingis drilled what appeared to be a corner three to cut the lead to just one. The shot wound up being called a long-two, and the Celtics’ comeback hopes were pretty much squashed right there.
On a more positive note, the make was Porzingis’ 11th in clutch time (score within five points with less than five minutes to play) this season on just 17 attempts. That’s good enough for a clutch-time field goal percentage of 64.7%. That number makes him the most efficient on the team, besides Luke Kornet who has made his lone attempt this season.
Since joining the Cs, Porzingis has become an integral part of their late-game offense. He’s done an excellent job of targeting mismatches and exploiting them with his seven-foot-four frame. The big man averages 1.46 points per play in the post, which is the most of any player with more than one attempt per game.
From his very first game as a Celtic, Porzingis has stepped up in the big moments. His debut was capped off when he sank a massive three to break a 101-101 tie against the New York Knicks with just over a minute remaining.
The trend continued a few weeks later when he made a serious impact in back-to-back close games.
First, against the Toronto Raptors in an In-Season Tournament showdown, Porzingis sank two clutch paint looks to keep the Celtics afloat.
With 1:32 left to play, he cut down the lane, caught a dump-off from Jrue Holiday, took his time, and calmly sank a turnaround push shot.
On the very next possession, Boston used the big Latvian’s size to exploit a mismatch. They got him a great look in the post against the much-smaller Dennis Schröder and he once again brought the Celtics level.
Of course, there are some nights where players simply don’t have it. That was the case two days later when the Cs headed to take on the Memphis Grizzlies. They inexplicably found themselves in a tight one with the bottom-feeding Grizzlies but also found a way to win.
This time, it was thanks to Porzingis’ efforts on the defensive end. In the final two minutes, he rejected a pair of shots to help prevent Memphis from taking the lead.
He first made a great recovery after biting on a pump fake from Santi Aldama and chased him down to stop an easy layup.
Then, with the second ticking down, Porzngis wound up helping to seal the game when he rejected a Zhaire Williams turnaround at the buzzer.
He also technically made the game-winning shot here, but his cutting dunk came with over a minute remaining.
Our next clutch Unicorn outing comes from maybe the most important game of the season in last week’s win over the Detroit Pistons (yeah, that’s right). With Detroit’s 27-game losing streak and Boston’s undefeated home record both hanging in the balance, Porzingis took over and propelled the Cs to the W.
He scored 17 points combined in the fourth quarter and overtime.
There was a healthy dosage of looks like the one below, where Porzingis just took advantage of shorter defenders not being able to do anything about his jump shot.
He simply catches, turns, and sinks the free-throw line shot over Jaden Ivey — easy work.
On Boston’s next trip down the floor, he did the same exact thing — this time over Bojan Bogdanovic.
Later on, he sank a big-time three-pointer in a situation where it seemed like he had iced the game (unfortunately, this was not yet the case). Boston’s No. 8 made the defense pay when they threw two defenders at Derrick White. He stayed ready and drilled the open look after White dished to him above the break.
It wasn’t a perfect run, though. Porzingis did miss a pretty great chance to put his squad ahead with less than a minute to play. Even though it didn’t result in points, the little turnaround that he fired up was a good look and is something that’s worked all year.
He sank a pretty similar look to kick off the overtime period.
In perhaps his most impressive action of the entire night, Porzingis showed off his patience and vision and found a wide-open White under the basket to put the Cs up by four.
This dish came right after he missed a great chance to extend the lead himself. Instead of firing a second shot, he took his time and made the right play.
To cap it all off, he threw down this super-cool dunk off of a Jayson Tatum outlet AND managed to avoid the dreaded “hanging on the rim” technical foul in the process.
Yes, this takeover came against the league-worst Pistons, but it’d be pretty unfair to act like this wasn’t a big spot in a competitive game. Detroit had had entirely enough of losing and were clawing to earn their first victory in nearly two months.
Overall, it’s been an extremely welcome sight to see Porzingis play in these close games. He’s given the Celtics an extra offensive tool in tight moments, which takes some pressure off of Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
Defenses have no choice other than to overcompensate anytime he catches the ball in the paint, leaving shooters open, and creating a world of opportunities for Boston’s other key contributors.
He’s going to become even more valuable once the playoffs roll around and the Cs are battling for Banner 18.