For the past week, the Boston Celtics have been playing shorthanded with Kristaps Porzingis sidelined with a calf injury. While the Celtics have largely survived without Porzingis, his absence exposed some of Boston’s problems, and his return will be significant. These problems were on full display in Tuesday night’s In-Season Tournament loss vs the Indiana Pacers. However, according to Adrian Wojnarowski, Porzingis is nearing a return as early as this Friday. It’s unclear if Porzingis will return Friday or later, likely on the 12th against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Regardless, let’s analyze the impact of this return and how the Celtics handled Prozingis’ absence.
The Impact of Kristaps Porzingis’ Return
Problems Without Porzingis
From the moment Porzingis went down with a calf injury against the Orlando Magic, it was deeply concerning for the Celtics. Given Porzingis’ long health history and body type, injuries are particularly concerning for him. Additionally, Boston’s’ lack of big men depth makes Porzingis essential to success. While the Celtics impressively went 4-1 in their full games without Porzingis, the loss to the Pacers highlighted his value and importance to the team. Defensively, Porzingis gives the team a new element. He can be used as a shot blocker, rim protector, or off-ball roamer. This level of versatility allows the Celtics to play an unpredictable style of defense that confuses the offense. It also changes the roles of players like Jrue Holiday and Derrick White, ultimately giving the Celtics the most options possible.
The Pacers Game
The Pacers shot an absurd 47.5% from three en route to an upset In-Season Tournament win on Tuesday. It’s unfair to say Porzingis would have drastically changed this elite shooting. However, he would impact that number with his incredible shot contests, and he certainly could have flipped the game offensively. The Celtics’ half-court offense was a mess against the Pacers, especially in the second half. A lack of ball movement and overreliance on the three-point shot were central to Boston’s shortcomings. The Celtics shot a poor 29.3% from three on 41 attempts.
With Porzingis in the lineup, the Celtics’ offense has a different element. Porzingis is a dangerous lob threat and roller, shooting an absurd 81.3% from within five feet of the rim. Unfortunately, the Celtics haven’t fully activated Porzingis as an inside scorer, which I would like to see change once he returns. Nevertheless, against the Pacers, Porzingis would have gotten plenty of inside looks, given Indiana’s poor interior defense. This would have made the Celtics’ offense less predictable and more efficient, possibly changing the result in the process.
Celtics Eyeing New Additions
After losing to the Pacers, Shams Charania said he expects the Celtics to remain active at the trade deadline. Given their limited cap space, it will be hard to find the right trade. However, Boston has intriguing assets to make a possible move. To me, this report is the Celtics’ ownership and management reiterating they will continue to improve and stay active no matter what. Given their lack of big man depth and size, finding another rotational big makes the most sense. Among others, Andre Drummond and JaVale McGee feel like realistic players the Celtics could target. However, if they get internal improvements from Luke Kornet or Neemias Queta, they could look in another direction. Possibly further upgrading their backcourt makes Alex Caruso and Delon Wright high-end targets.
Why Porzingis’ Return Helps Jaylen Brown
During Porzingis’ absence, Jaylen Brown noticeably struggled, especially as a playmaker, including back-to-back games with no assists and three turnovers. In Porzingis’ last full game, Brown had a season-best contest, posting 26 points and eight assists en route to a win against the Milwaukee Bucks. Brown’s playmaking was at an all-time high, and he fed Porzingis all night. Brown and Prozingis’ chemistry has been a talking point in Celtics circles all season. The stats prove this chemistry is real. Of Brown’s 61 assists on the season, 21 have gone to Porzingis, the most of any teammate. This connection should be explored further once Porzingis returns. A somewhat regular Brown-Porzingis two-man game fixes many of Boston’s problems, including getting Porzingis more touches and developing Brown’s confidence as a playmaker. Ultimately, this connection is another example of Porzingis’ impact, and his return will show the Celtics’ full potential.