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Ex-Mavs big man Porzingis returns for Celtics in NBA Finals

<a class="link " href="https://sports.yahoo.com/nba/players/5464/" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Kristaps Porzingis;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Kristaps Porzingis</a> of the <a class="link " href="https://sports.yahoo.com/nba/teams/boston/" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Boston Celtics;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Boston Celtics</a> practices on the eve of the opening game of the NBA Finals against <a class="link " href="https://sports.yahoo.com/nba/teams/dallas/" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Dallas;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Dallas</a> (Maddie Meyer)

Latvian forward Kristaps Porzingis returns from a right calf strain for the Boston Celtics in Thursday's opening game of the NBA Finals against his former club, the Dallas Mavericks.

The 7-foot-2 (2.18m) standout averaged 20.1 points and 7.2 rebounds a game for the Celtics this season but has missed 10 games since suffering the injury against Miami on April 29 in the first round of the playoffs.

"It was a long road to get to this point for me, but feeling good," Porzingis said. "Burns inside of me, not being able to be out there, but tomorrow finally I'll get the chance and I'm excited.

"There's nothing like game minutes and experience that I'm going to get. It'll be tough to jump into the finals like this. I did everything I could to prepare for it. We'll see."

With the Celtics ignited by stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown and Dallas sparked by star guard Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving, Porzingis could be the x-factor to lifting a championship trophy.

"The situation was not ideal, having to miss all this time and now having to jump back in at the most important moment of the season," Porzingis said.

"I have to go out there and just be myself, give what I can to the team and expect nothing. We have to go out there and earn it and we will do that individually and as a group.

"Going to be special, goosebumps for sure. I don't need to overthink. Just go out there and hoop."

Porzingis played for the Mavericks from 2019 to February 2021 before being traded to Washington, ending a stay that never worked for player or team.

"Not all of it was not good," said Porzingis. "Overall I think it didn't work for both sides. It wasn't perfect.

"There were some rumors there was something in the locker room. It was never like that. It wasn't just perfect for us playing together. It didn't work out. We moved on.

"There's no ill will from their side, for sure from my side. I don't think there should be."

Doncic said the combination just didn't work with Porzingis in Dallas.

"I don't really know why it didn't work out. We were both still really young," he said. "We tried to make it work but it just didn't work so we were done."

Mavericks coach Jason Kidd had no ill will for Porzingis.

"I thought it was going well in the sense of our defense, his ability to block shots and rebounds, and on offense we looked to post him up a little more. Both worked. He has the skill set to do both," Kidd said.

"For the short period I had him, I really enjoyed KP, did everything we asked. In the business of basketball, there was a pivot and things changed."

Kidd has watched Porzingis improve since joining the Celtics this season.

"When you talk about a big who can put the ball on the floor and score, and look at the defensive end -- he doesn't get recognized for how he can change shots or (be) a shot-blocker -- in Boston, he has done an incredible job of doing both," Kidd said. "He plays his role."

- 'Super-jumpy' Mavs -

Porzingis has learned from eight NBA seasons on four clubs, Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla said.

"All he cares about is winning and he has used his experiences around the league," Mazzulla said. "He has seen a lot. He has seen tough times. He knows what the league is all about."

Over the next two weeks, that will be about winning the best-of-seven series.

"Everybody has one goal in mind and everybody is doing their part achieving that goal," Porzingis said. "That's the special part about this group."

Porzingis also has insight into the challenge the Mavericks will bring, notably on inside lobs to the hoop.

"They are special and we have to be mindful of that," Porzingis said. "Those guys are super-athletic and super-jumpy. We'll have our hands full with them."

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