Home Featured Banner

Life Begins for Celtics Without Kristaps Porzingis After Injury

BOSTON — Details on Kristaps Porziņģis’ injury remained scarce on Wednesday afternoon as the Celtics prepared to begin life without him in Wednesday’s Game 5. All Joe Mazzulla and his players know is that he’ll miss at least the next week with a calf strain and avoided a far more devastating achilles tear when he stumbled while setting a screen during the second quarter on Monday.

“Obviously, he’s a real dynamic player and provides a lot of mismatches and probably some nightmares for the other team,” Sam Hauser said at shootaround on Wednesday. “Those are tough shoes to fill, but I think collectively, we can fill them in a different way. We just gotta go in playing confident and act as if nothing changes, even though he is a big part of what we’ve had to this point. It sucks, you never want to see someone go down. I’m glad it’s not as serious as it might’ve looked on TV and in person, so I hope he gets healthy quick and we get him back at some point if we can continue to win here.”

Derrick White and Al Horford talked to Porziņģis over the day that followed and found him in good spirits. The Celtics also stand in an encouraging position to sustain his loss, already ahead 3-1 on a Heat team far more devastated by their own ailments. Jaime Jaquez joined Miami’s inactive list ahead of Game 5, pushing the Heat to almost inevitable elimination barring a ginormous Boston letdown. With a win on Wednesday, the Celtics can rest until at least Sunday and that layoff will extend to Tuesday if the Magic and Cavaliers extend to a Game 7 on Sunday. Boston also had plenty of experience winning without Porziņģis during the regular season, going 21-4.

Between those games, which included a pair of victories over Phoenix, a rock solid win over the Pelicans at home, at Philadelphia and at Dallas alongside other less remarkable competition, the Celtics’ splits held up through all the minutes they played with Porziņģis off the floor. Their offensive rating actually improved by 0.7 points per 100 possessions to 121.5 and their defensive rating stayed the same. So Boston outscored its opponents by 11.8 points per 100 without Porziņģis, a better number than when he played (+11.2). That coinciding with Al Horford’s ability to step into the starting lineup bodes well for the Celtics sustaining in the short term.

“You can’t replace what he does on the floor,” White said. “Obviously it’s a big hole for us, but we got guys that have stepped up before. When you can put Al Horford in, that’s a luxury that we have, so we’re gonna be ready to go.”

Current circumstances could make the Porziņģis loss more impactful than it proved during the regular season. Many of those absences happened for one night, mostly between back-to-backs, with Horford able to fully rest on the other half before or after compensating for his teammate’s absence. He only missed a pair of extended stretches, a 3-1 slate at the end of November against Atlanta, Chicago and the Sixers down Joel Embiid. They lost the fourth game to Indiana during the In-Season Tournament. The five-game stretch he missed included Phoenix twice, Portland, Utah and Washington. All of those teams far cries from even Miami’s ability to switch.

The Heat won the second half on Monday, 52-49, after Porziņģis exited the game. The Celtics shot 44.2% from the field and 27.8% from three after halftime, with Jayson Tatum struggling to get his shot off against extra Miami pressure and White benefiting by shooting 7-for-13. Overall, Boston has hit 45.8% of its shot, 38.1% of its threes and has won the free throw attempt battle, 76-50, in the series so far. Miami doesn’t sit far behind those shooting numbers, but is posting only a 103.9 offensive rating to Boston’s 116.0.

“We’re gonna have to play different, but next man up mentality for however long, if we are without him,” Tatum said. “I don’t know anything, but next man up and find a way to win the game.”

Bam Adebayo found success against Horford, shooting 12-for-21 (57.1%), through the first two games while Luke Kornet only played nine minutes combined in the last two. Immediate concerns before Boston moves on to Orlando or Cleveland, the third and seventh-ranked defenses from the regular season, respectively. The Magic have held the Cavs to 98.9 points per 100 possessions, the second-best mark in the playoffs, but fell behind 3-2 when Donovan Mitchell led Cleveland to a win in the fourth quarter of Game 5. They play tomorrow in Orlando.

The Celtics will miss Porziņģis’ post-up ability first and foremost, which Tatum and Jaylen Brown could replace in greater screening roles. Jrue Holiday also likes to play with his back to the basket, but he’s shooting only 31.4% from the field in the series so far. The loss of his length and size on defense could become more impactful if nobody can replace it. Xavier Tillman Sr. didn’t play through the first four games after losing favor late in the regular season. Kornet can play in drop, but Boston got away from that quickly against the Heat’s high dribble handoff sets, losing those minutes over a small sample size by 47 points per 100 possessions.

“Their switching is trying to slow us down a little bit, take one-on-one and take tough shots,” White said. “We’re just trying to get to the next action, make the right read quicker, drive, kick and get those advantages off that. It’s definitely a different challenge without K.P., but we’ll be prepared for it.”

The Celtics could also experiment with playing smaller through Oshae Brissett or Sam Hauser minutes, while Neemias Queta signed a standard contract and became playoff-eligible last month. He played well in spurts during the regular season when multiple big men went down. On Wednesday, Mazzulla ramped up Horford’s minutes, went to small-small screening on offense and spaced the big men. That’ll become the primary plan for now, but there’ll come a time when the Celtics have to rely on their depth. Hauser, Kornet and Payton Pritchard combined for two points in Game 5.

According to Shams Charania, Porziņģis is considered week-to-week. Mazzulla said on 98.5 The Sports Hub that he’ll be evaluated next week. Giannis Antetokounmpo suffered a soleus strain on Apr. 9 agains Boston and is just getting back into practice, missing Milwaukee’s Game 5 win on Tuesday three weeks into his recovery. The average recovery time is 17 days, or roughly six games. Round two’s Game 7 is scheduled for May 19, two weeks from Sunday’s potential opener.

“Al said something to (me and Tillman) about being ready to play, getting a good warmup in so we’re ready to step in,” Kornet told CLNS Media. “We know over the course of a playoffs, stuff like that’s going to happen, you just have to be ready. Nothing will ever go the way you hope it to or want it to, it’s about figuring it out and winning the game at hand.”

Bobby Manning

Boston Celtics beat reporter for CLNS Media and host of the Garden Report Celtics Post Game Show. NBA national columnist for Boston Sports Journal. Contributor to SB Nation's CelticsBlog. Host of the Dome Theory Sports and Culture Podcast on CLNS. Syracuse University 2020.

Recent Posts

Matt Judon Contract UPDATE and Bedard’s Initial 53 Defense

Welcome to the Greg Bedard Patriots Podcast! In this episode, Greg Bedard dives deep into…

12 hours ago

Bedard: Judon WILL NOT PLAY Under Current Contract

Patriots linebacker Matthew Judon, who has been a critical leader of the team for the…

13 hours ago

Answering your summer Bruins questions

Welcome back to Pucks with Haggs! Joe Haggerty and Mick Colageo answer your Bruins questions…

15 hours ago

Jaylen Brown’s Team USA Snub IS Political

Join the Celtics Beat podcast as they dive into the controversial exclusion of Jaylen Brown…

1 day ago

Red Sox Remain Strong Approaching All Star Break

The Red Sox take a series from the Oakland Athletics at Fenway with three games…

1 day ago

Celtics Offseason Mailbag: What’s Going on with Jaylen Brown?

Jay King, Jam Packard, and Brian Robb break down the latest drama surrounding Jaylen Brown…

1 day ago