Kristaps Porzingis is the Key to Boston's Championship Hopes

The Celtics need Porzingis in the lineup if they want to win a title.
Kristaps Porzingis
Kristaps Porzingis / Paul Rutherford/GettyImages

On Wednesday night, the Boston Celtics clinched homecourt advantage throughout the NBA playoffs by beating the Oklahoma City Thunder, 135-100. It was the Celtics' 60th win of the 2023-24 season. The blowout wasn't indicative of much, given that Oklahoma City was playing the second night of a back-to-back and missing its two best players in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Jalen Williams. But the dominant play of Kristaps Porzingis once again hammered home how critical he is to Boston's championship hopes.

The 7-foot-3 center recorded 27 points on 11-of-14 shooting from the floor and a perfect 3-for-3 from beyond the arc. He wasn't just a scorer, though, pulling down 12 boards to go along with five blocks and four assists. It was a complete performance from Porzingis, who was a plus-19 in 31 minutes. Even more impressive is how he put up those numbers.

Porzingis feasted in the midrange and paint against the Thunder. Oklahoma City is an excellent team but its biggest flaw is a lack of size, and Boston punished the Thunder for it. Every time Porzingis got matched up with a smaller defender (which was every possession when Chet Holmgren was on the bench), the Celtics would toss it to him and good things would happen. In the first half he would simply shoot over the defender. Once the Thunder started doubling, he'd dish it back out to the perimeter to one of Boston's several dangerous scorers with the defense in rotation. It usually lead to an easy bucket.

In the second half, the Thunder tried zone defense. That's something the Celtics have struggled with in recent years for numerous reasons. Last night, it was no trouble at all as they'd get the ball to Porzingis at the free-throw line and let him go to work. As JJ Redick observed on ESPN's broadcast, when you get the ball to a skilled 7-foot center in the middle of a zone, only good things can happen.

Shooting over guys who are eight inches shorter than him is the "hard" work for Porzingis, too. On many possessions he hangs out a few feet beyond the three-point line. But defenses have to zero in on Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown so the big man is often left completely alone out there. When his teammates find him, Porzingis is basically taking warm-up shots with how open he is. They won't always go in, but the Latvian center is a career 36 percent shooter from deep. He'll have nights like Wednesday when he is consistently hitting threes, and that's when the Celtics really start pouring it on.

That is the key to Boston's championship hopes. When Porzingis is on, the Celtics are borderline unstoppable. How can defenses possibly stop him at the same time as two All-NBA wings and two All-Star caliber point guards? Even when Porzingis is having a bad shooting night, he's still a huge threat that defenses have to account for.

He simplifies things for Boston while making everything much more complicated for defenses. We've seen the Celtics get stagnant in playoff environments before. Now the Celtics have the best "break in case of emergency" option possible in their 20-point-per-game center who is capable of shooting over all but a few defenders in the league. Defenses can't switch onto him because he's too dangerous as a post scorer. There is just no way to consistently and effectively shut down Porzingis while also shutting down everyone else. He may not be Boston's best player, but he is absolutely its most important.

The Celtics should be prohibitive favorites to win the NBA title this year. They have been so outlandishly good it would be absurd to consider them anything but. As long as Porzingis is healthy and playing well, they will stay that way. With him in the lineup they can do anything and beat anyone. Boston just has to hope his injury-prone past doesn't rear its ugly head at the worst possible time. Because without him, the quest for an18th banner will fall short.

Liam McKeone is an editor at The Big Lead.


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Liam McKeone

LIAM MCKEONE

Liam McKeone is a Senior Writer for the Breaking & Trending News Team at Sports Illustrated. In addition to his role as a writer, he collaborates with other teams across Minute Media to help define his team’s content strategy. He has been in the industry as a content creator since 2017, and prior to joining SI in 2024, Liam worked for NBC Sports Boston and The Big Lead. In addition to his work as a writer, he has hosted the Press Pass Podcast covering sports media and The Big Stream covering pop culture. A graduate of Fordham University, Liam is always up for a good debate and enjoys loudly arguing about sports, rap music, books, and video games. Liam has been a member of the National Sports Media Association (NSMA) since 2020.