June 21, 2024

NEW YORK — It took no time at all for Kristaps Porzingis to make his presence felt with his new team.

Porzingis finished with 30 points, 8 rebounds and 4 blocked shots — including scoring nine straight points to put Boston ahead for good late in the fourth quarter — to lead the Celtics to a 108-104 victory over the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night.

“That was awesome,” Porzingis said, with a very broad smile, when asked how it felt to take down his former team in his first game with his new one. “That was awesome, I’m not going to lie. Playing here at the Garden is always special as the home team, obviously, but also on the road here it’s really fun.

“At one point it got really crazy when the fans got into it and they made the comeback. But we stayed poised, we stayed calm and we were able to finish out the game.

“Overall, a fun game to play in, for sure.”

It was a dream start for Porzingis, as he set a franchise record for most points in a Celtics debut, surpassing Dominique Wilkins’ 25 in 1994.

He showed off his versatility, too. He paced Boston in both 3s, hitting 5 of the 12 Celtics, while also leading the team with a 9-for-10 showing from the free throw line. He blocked four shots, altered several more and finished a game-high plus-13 in 38 minutes.

“He has an innate ability to put two on the ball, whether they’re trying to pop and veer, whether they’re trying to blitz him, and so when he gets the space, he’s a magnet,” Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla said. “So we just have to continue to get better at our spacing, get better at our 2-on-1 reads, and they’re going to look different than they did at times last year with him on the floor. But, because of him, we can get to some more post ups like we did down the stretch and really change the spacing of the game.”

The Celtics needed every bit of Porzingis’ excellence after falling into a 99-93 hole with 4:10 remaining thanks to a horrific 35 seconds from Jaylen Brown, who made two bad passes — one in the halfcourt that was straight at Knicks guard Jalen Brunson, and another to no one on the ensuing inbounds pass after a Julius Randle 3-pointer — before fouling Quentin Grimes on a made triple.

That turned what had been a tie game into a six-point deficit, sending the Garden crowd into a frenzy and leaving the Knicks, seemingly, poised to win against Boston on national television here for a second time in three seasons.

Instead, Boston was able to go on a 13-3 run to flip the game around, thanks to Porzingis, who hit six three throws sandwiched around a massive 3-pointer on the right wing that put the Celtics ahead for good with 89 seconds to go.

“That was big,” Tatum said. “For us to call that timeout right there and figure it out … I think we made timely plays. Obviously getting in the bonus helped. But rebounding was kind of hurting us, letting them get second- and third-chance opportunities. So once we started getting stops, giving them one chance, and we just were under control.

“We knew we wanted to run, we knew who we were trying to attack and we executed.”

“I mean, he’s really good. He’s really, really good. We’re lucky to have him.”

Celtics forward Jayson Tatum on Kristaps Porzingis

It was also the Celtics debut for Jrue Holiday, whom Boston acquired on the eve of training camp just days after Holiday had been shipped to the Portland Trail Blazers in a blockbuster deal for Damian Lillard. And while it was a quiet night offensively for Holiday — he finished with nine points, four rebounds, two assists and three blocks in 34 minutes — he was part of a ferocious Boston defensive effort that held Knicks stars Randle and Brunson to a combined 11-for-43 shooting, including 5-for-27 on 2-point shots.

That was in keeping with what, overall, was a strange night at MSG. The Knicks shot a blistering 18-for-41 (43.9%) from 3-point range — including 13-for-20 on open triples, according to ESPN Stats & Information — but just 18-for-56 (32.1%) from inside the arc. Boston, meanwhile, shot just 12-for-39 from 3 — including 3-for-15 on open ones, per SIG, and 6-for-25 after a hot-shooting first quarter — but 25-for-38 (65.7%) on 2s.

Still, in front of a sellout crowd of 19,812 at MSG — one that chanted “F— Porzingis” late in the fourth quarter when he was hit with a technical foul for catching Knicks center Isaiah Hartenstein in the face while trying to corral a defensive rebound – the Celtics showed plenty of poise and composure down the stretch against a playoff-caliber opponent in the Knicks to begin a season that they hope will end in a championship.

And Boston did it while getting the kind of performance from Porzingis that made the Celtics decide to fundamentally alter their team by sending out Marcus Smart to acquire him back in June.

“He just makes us that much more dynamic obviously with his size, ability to shoot, make plays off the dribble,” said Jayson Tatum, who led Boston with 34 points and 11 rebounds. “When they double me late, make the right play, find an open man. Obviously he can shoot from wherever.

“I mean, he’s really good. He’s really, really good. We’re lucky to have him.”

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