On June 23, the Boston Celtics swung a trade that saw them part ways with the former longest-tenured player on the team, Marcus Smart, alongside Danilo Gallinari, Mike Muscala and a second round pick. In return, the C’s acquired big man Kristaps Porziņģis from the Washington Wizards (and two first round picks, in addition).
It was a trade that divided fans: Smart was known for his incredible defensive presence and savvy play that helped bring winning basketball back to Boston. When he was drafted back in 2014, the Celtics were a team in remission; he became a backbone for a young core that would become regular playoff participants. The loss of Smart sure stunk, but on the other hand, Boston was acquiring an undeniable offensive talent in Porziņģis. Still, the 7-foot-3 “Unicorn,” as he became known as, came to the team with a track record of injuries and question of whether he’d be a good fit next to his new teammates, namely stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
One game into the start of the NBA regular season, I’m convinced that he is the last piece that the C’s needed to get over the hump and finally win that elusive NBA championship.
Sure, Porziņģis is not the only piece that Boston brought in over the offseason. Point guard Jrue Holiday became a Celtic after his tenure in Milwaukee ran its course, and he is expected to essentially take over the Smart role: a defense-first point guard who can lead the offense at times. However, it is Tingus Pingus (NSFW) who makes Boston a much different team than fans have been used to watching in past years.
The Celtics largest issue over the past few seasons has been an inability to close out games and dry spells. They have lost a number of regular season games via last-minute comebacks. Once the playoffs begin, it seems that if Tatum and/or Brown can’t shoulder the burden of the Celtics offense then the team simply cannot stay afloat. For all Smart offered Boston in terms of defensive abilities, he was often a liability when he was relied on to make shots when Tatum or Brown were struggling. Now, the team finally has a third option that they can turn to with confidence if they ever need a bucket.
Porziņģis’ abilities make him the perfect player to compliment both Brown and Tatum, two scorers who can score on all three levels of the court. His size and shooting stroke make him the ideal pick-and-pop or pick-and-roll threat regardless of who is on the court, creating easy offense with just two players. He’s a smart player who makes cuts and moves off of the ball to find space on the floor; just his presence on the hardwood can take some of the pressure off of Brown and Tatum. With Porziņģis in the lineup, teams will be forced to clinch the interior though mindful that they don’t leave the three-point line uncontested. He’s basically going to be expected to play off of Brown and Tatum just as Al Horford has done in past seasons. Mind you, virtually everyone can agree that Porziņģis is a much more lethal player than Horford ever has been (and, though he’s another strong defender, his offensive woes in the playoffs didn’t exactly help the team).
The Unicorn showed off his magical abilities on opening night against the New York Knicks. In his first game as a Celtic, he finished with the highest plus/minus on the team (meaning the team outscored their opponent the most when he was on the court). Along the way, he scored 30 points and corralled seven rebounds, shooting 9-for-10 on foul shots on the night. He was also 5-9 on three-point attempts. In just one game, Porziņģis has already shown that his ability to impact all three levels of the court can be translated to Boston despite questions of his role now that he is no longer one of the top one or two scorers on his team, as he had been the case during his stints in New York, Dallas and Washington.
Porziņģis’ performance came on a night when Brown could only muster 11 points. Tatum, though he scored 34 points in the win, finished with a plus/minus of zero, meaning the Celtics essentially equaled the Knicks’ output when he was on the hardwood. It was the Unicorn who made the difference on offense, which is especially apparent when considering Horford was a minus-8 in 26 minutes off of the bench in place of Porziņģis.
Regardless of how this season pans out (though it could be argued that Boston has entered “championship-or-bust” territory), the move for Porziņģis is one that absolutely had to be made. The team has been to the playoffs in nine straight seasons. Since drafting Brown in 2016, the C’s have made it all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals five times though only advanced to the NBA Finals once, losing to the Warriors in 2021-22. It’s been a vicious cycle of making the playoffs but not getting over the hump in Boston. Could the team really expect much else to change if they once again put all of their eggs into the Brown-Smart-Tatum basket?
Put simply, the time is now for the C’s to go out and win a championship given the surplus of talent up and down the roster. It’s moves like the Porziņģis trade that must be made to give teams every advantage they can get. Luckily for Boston, this move appears to have given the team its best opportunity to win that elusive 18th championship in franchise history.