Why the Celtics need Kristaps Porzingis to close out the Mavericks?

The burning question on everyone’s mind over the next few days: Will Kristaps Porzingis be at full strength for Game 3?

Porzingis seemed to tweak his leg midway through the fourth quarter of Game 2, prompting his exit with just under five minutes remaining. Post-game, he acknowledged taking a knock, admitting, “Obviously something happened a little bit, but we’ll have a couple of days,” before confidently adding, “I’ll die out there if we need.”

Given Porzingis’ notorious injury history—one former Mavs executive even likened his knees to “a ticking time bomb”—there’s always a risk he’ll be limited going forward. This could spell big trouble for Boston. Without him, they’ve looked significantly below their potential in earlier rounds, and his contributions have been crucial. He’s tied with Jayson Tatum for the second-highest plus-minus on the team at plus-25 in the Finals.


Here’s why the Celtics might be in trouble if Kristaps Porzingis isn’t at full strength for the rest of the series:

Kristaps Porzingis Makes the Celtics a Different Team

The Celtics have thrived by driving the ball in the first two games of the playoffs, exploiting Luka Doncic’s defensive lapses. They’ve shot a blistering 83.3 percent at the rim during the Finals—a ludicrously high number compared to the Wolves’ 64.5 percent and the Thunder’s 64.7 percent in earlier rounds.

This success is partly due to the Mavericks’ inability to keep their rim protectors, Dereck Lively II and Daniel Gafford, anchored in the paint. Porzingis’ shooting threat has pulled them out, leaving the lane vulnerable. Case in point: Jrue Holiday effortlessly finished layup after layup over P.J. Washington, going 9-of-9 on shots in the paint during Game 2.

The Mavericks built their Finals run on strong rim protection, exploiting weak 3-point shooters to guard the paint. If Porzingis is out, Luke Kornet will have to step in, allowing Dallas to stash their big men and revert to their elite defense from previous rounds. Though Al Horford is a good shooter, he doesn’t command the same defensive attention as Porzingis, enabling the Mavs to bolster their rim defense.

The Mavs Can Play More Varied Defensive Schemes Without Porzingis

Porzingis has been a nightmare for the Mavs on switches, with Kyrie Irving unable to handle him in those matchups. The Celtics have leveraged this by feeding Porzingis in the post, where he’s been shooting an astonishing 76.9 percent on his 2-pointers. Horford and Kornet don’t pose the same post-up threat, which the Mavs will gladly take.

Moreover, Porzingis is a natural zone buster, easily exploiting the soft spots in a 2-3 zone defense. The Mavs have largely avoided using this defense against him but would have the option to sprinkle it in more if he’s not on the court.

The Mavs Will Be Able to Score More Easily With Porzingis Out

Porzingis has been a defensive titan, averaging 2.5 blocks per game and stifling the Mavs’ lob attack with his 7-foot-6 wingspan. The Celtics lack a comparable shot-blocking presence, which has allowed them to keep Porzingis on non-threats like Washington or Derrick Jones Jr., the latter being a non-factor offensively.

Dallas has struggled offensively in the Finals, averaging just 93.5 points per game—17.9 points less than their output against the top-ranked Wolves defense in the previous series. To claw back into this series, they need to revamp their offensive strategy. Attacking the rim against Horford and Kornet instead of Porzingis could be the key to reigniting their offense.