Chris Forsberg

Porzingis offers cautious optimism as NBA Finals Game 1 nears

"The goal is to finish the job."

NBC Universal, Inc.

BOSTON -- Near the finish line of Kristaps Porzingis’ impromptu, 10-minute press conference in which he formally declared his intentions to be back on the court for Game 1 of the NBA Finals, a reporter asked Porzingis about his pain threshold and if he was running pain-free.

There was a seven-second pause. Porzingis’ eyes darted around the room, maybe hunting for a trainer or media relations staffer to help guide his response on the subject.

“Uhhhh … yes,” Porzingis said with his trademark smile.

While it wasn’t the most encouraging response, the other nine minutes and 53 seconds of chatter were largely positive, with Porzingis offering cautious optimism about his return to action after missing Boston’s last 10 games due to a right calf strain.

His surprise off-day chat, coming on the heels of ramping up his activity in Boston’s 10-day build to the Finals, injected some energy into the Auerbach Center after Boston’s afternoon workout. Porzingis calmly waited as local media crews rushed to set up their tripods and cameras after he surprisingly burst through the doors from the team’s dining area to answer questions.

Asked out of the gates if he was feeling 100 percent, Porzingis offered the first of many smiles and deadpanned, “How you guys doing?”

He eventually added, "Good question. I don't know. We'll see. Have a couple more days. Done a lot of work up until this point. Done everything needed to get back into playing shape. We'll see.”

So, he's planning on playing Game 1?

"That is the plan right now," said Porzingis. “But, yeah, again, it's a couple more days and I think that could make a difference. Every day gives me a bit more time to get even better. Working.”

Added Porzingis: "I'm feeling better each day. It's been a long process, I'm not going to lie. It's been tough to sit out, obviously. But I tried to stay as engaged as I can with the team and be around the team and do my work and be with the team.

"But it sucks. It really, really does suck. But we're here now and I'm feeling much better. Put in a lot of hours to get to this point. And look forward to getting some action on the court.”

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Porzingis admitted there’s an energy around the team. “Everybody’s buzzing,” he said, while noting the increased media presence in advance of the Finals.

"The goal is to finish the job,” said Porzingis.

So, what has Porzingis done? He noted how he’s practiced with the team, particularly in the lighter sessions. Porzingis admitted there’s no real opportunity for game reps but believes the totality of Boston’s off-day workouts should put him in position to be ready to dive back into game action.

"I have to feel confident. I don't want to go out there and be thinking about something like it doesn't matter,” said Porzingis. "Once I'm out there, it has to be full focus on trying to play the best basketball I can and help this team win. Obviously, as I said, it's not ideal that I haven't had any real minutes, but I roll with the punches and it is what it is. I just try to be the best I can be with the given circumstances.”

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Porzingis praised his teammates for holding the fort without him. He gushed about the Mavericks while calling Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving two of the best offensive players in the league. Porzingis registered his first unofficial block of the Finals when, asked about how things went wrong for him in Dallas, he kept the focus on what’s ahead.

"I'm not even thinking about that right now. I'm focused on the job ahead,” said Porzingis. "We can talk about that later, brother.”

Porzingis did admit his recovery has been maybe a bit slower than he hoped and detailed how hard it is not to be out there with his teammates. “It weighs on you, right?” he said.

But he more often than not expressed optimism about getting back on the court.

"I think the medical staff would not put me out there if they wouldn’t be confident that I’d be good,” said Porzingis. "I’ve done the things necessary to check the boxes, and that's it. Of course, it’s hard to imitate the same intensity in practice. That intensity is going to be a completely different level, but I have to be confident it will be alright.”

What’s undeniable is how much more dynamic Porzingis can make the Celtics, even if he’s still shaking rust from the long layoff and potentially still inching his way back to full health. His rim protection could help complicate matters for Doncic and the Mavs, while his floor-spacing abilities could unlock Boston’s offensive potential.

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That seven-second pause was a little reminder that there are no guarantees with health. The Celtics have had the luxury of giving Porzingis nearly 40 days of time to recover between suffering the injury in Miami on April 29 and Game 1 of the Finals.

There’s hope that, when they pull that string on Thursday night, he’s something close to the two-way force that we saw for much of the season.  If he’s in the starting lineup, the mere announcement of No. 8’s name will send tremors throughout the North End.

The Celtics are 30-5 this season without Porzingis, including 9-1 in the postseason. But it’s undeniable that he could be vital to achieving the final goal. You can sense how badly he wants to be out there with his teammates.

If he suits up Thursday night, we don’t suspect there will be any pause in how he plays.

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