How much longer can the Celtics overcome Porzingis' potential absence?

How much longer can the Celtics overcome Porzingis' potential absence? Originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The Boston Celtics have done everything they can to keep Kristaps Porzingis upright throughout the 2023-24 season, so the sight of him limping off the court in the first half of Game 4 of their Eastern Conference first-round matchup against the Miami Heat was eye-opening. A punch for a team with clear championship aspirations.

While we wait for an update on the severity A right calf injury caused Porzingis to wear a walking boot Leaving the Casilla Center on Monday night, we were left to ponder how the team would handle the absence of any height for the 7-foot-3 big man.

The Celtics can lean heavily on the fact that they are 21-4 in 25 games without Porzingis this season. That included winning 11 of the last 12 games they played without him, the only loss 104-91 defeat in Milwaukee With Xavier Tillman starting the game while the Celtics rested both Porzingis and Al Horford.

With Porzingis missing 25 games during the regular season, the Celtics have plenty of experience doing without him.

Boston's second-most-used five-man lineup — behind the regular starting lineup, which logged 623 minutes over 37 games — was Horford in place of Porzingis. This group spent 311 minutes together over 32 matches overall. The downside: Boston's net rating dropped from a solid +11.0 with Porzingis in the mix to +2.7 with Horford in that spot. Notably, the defense was 6.4 points worse per 100 possessions with Horford's lineup.

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However, there is still a lot of familiarity within that group. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown played a lot of playoff games with Horford starting alongside them before moving to a reserve role this season after the Celtics acquired both Porzingis and Jrue Holiday.

The bigger question may be how Boston navigates the 18 minutes when Horford is on the bench without Porzingis. The Celtics won't want to overwork the soon-to-be 38-year-old Horford, even if he is by far the most proven big man on the roster.

Luke Kornet, who started the postseason sidelined with a right calf injury, has just 65 minutes of total time during his four-year postseason experience with Boston. The Celtics have some lineups that have flourished with Kornet this season, including one that pairs him with Tatum, Holiday, Payton Pritchard and Sam Hauser.

This lineup produced an impressive net rating of +33.7 in 96 minutes together during the regular season and could be a pairing the team relies on heavily during minutes extending into the second quarter.

Joe Mazzola has yet to make a midseason acquisition of Tillman in the postseason but that will likely change soon. Tillman He had 18 games of postseason experience with Memphismost notably his contract last season while he was assigned to defend Anthony Davis in their first-round matchup with the Lakers.

The Celtics had good success pairing Horford and Tillman together in two big lineups during the regular season (+21.6 net rating, 54 minutes) but they may not have that luxury as much in the playoffs. Tillman spent 220 minutes on the court without Horford, according to PBP Stats tracking, and the Celtics had a solid +7.6 net rating during that span.

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Boston also has a Neemias Queta available on deep after that His signing from a two-way deal moves him to the 15th open spot on the list Before the start of the season.

Moving around without Porzingis shouldn't hinder the Celtics from finishing with a 3-1 lead over the Heat due to his injury issues. Even when healthy, Miami doesn't have a lot of pure size.

Things get more interesting in the second round. Regardless of whether Cleveland or Orlando takes the lead, both teams have offensive size that will force Boston to get creative if they operate without Porzingis.

Boston can always go small, perhaps sneaking some minutes with Tatum as a center in a small-ball lineup. The Holiday-Brown-Tatum-White lineup plus Hauser played just 18 minutes together in four games but scored 47 points on 33 possessions. However, Boston's overall array of talent and experience should stand them in good stead against the Magic or Cavaliers, two teams not overflowing with playoff experience.

However, the circuit date appears to be May 21st. This is the targeted start for the conference finals (with a possible move to May 19 if the conference semifinals end quickly).

If Boston is eager to get back to the NBA Finals — and especially if Nikola Jokic and the defending champion Nuggets end up on the other side if they get there — it's imperative that Porzingis is healthy for those late-game battles. This means not only getting him healthy after the injury scare, but ensuring he doesn't get fouled by his calf when he returns to the field.

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Too many Boston postseason trips in recent memory have ended with lamentations about the team being less than fully healthy. From Kevin Garnett's knee to Kendrick Perkins' ACL to Isaiah Thomas' hip to Robert Williams III's meniscus, the Celtics don't want another postseason to be remembered for injuries that left the Celtics less than 100 percent at the finish line for the year. .

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