What does Kristaps Porziņģis’ ‘rare’ ankle injury mean for Celtics in the NBA Finals?


DALLAS — The Boston Celtics finally got Kristaps Porziņģis back for the NBA Finals and were immediately reminded how vital he is to the team’s success. After a regular season full of small injuries forcing him to sit out occasionally, Porziņģis missed the second round and Eastern Conference finals with a soleus strain in his right calf.

Once again, he has suffered a lower-body injury that puts his availability in jeopardy. The Celtics announced before practice Tuesday that Porziņģis suffered a “rare” injury termed as a torn medial retinaculum allowing dislocation of the posterior tibialis tendon in his left leg.

Dr. Daniel Kharrazi, an orthopedic surgeon at Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Los Angeles and former orthopedic consultant to the Lakers, explained the injury in layperson’s terms to The Athletic as a tear of the connective tissue in the ankle that has caused instability in a tendon connecting the calf to the ankle. Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla called it a “serious injury” and said the decision to play will be made by the Celtics medical staff before Game 3 on Wednesday.

“It is out of his hands,” Mazzulla said of Porziņģis. “It’s his job to fight like hell to put himself in the best possible position to feel as good as he can. We’re not going to let him compromise himself.”

The Celtics center was wearing a black brace on his left leg that ran up his calf Wednesday. He continued to express optimism that he would be ready to play in Game 3.

Porziņģis said he suffered the injury when he was boxing out Dereck Lively II for a rebound at the 3:27 mark in the third quarter of Game 2. He said he bumped knees with Lively and “something happened.” When Porziņģis landed from contesting a Kyrie Irving shot on the following possession, he came up limping.

The Athletic’s Jared Weiss and Jay King were on the ground in Dallas to discuss Porziņģis’ injury and its potential impact as the Celtics take a 2-0 NBA Finals lead into Game 3 on Wednesday.


Jared Weiss: You know it’s going to be a fascinating day when a team issues a news release describing an injury as “rare.” Jeff Stotts of InStreetClothes.com, the NBA’s go-to social media injury analyst, said there is only one similar injury in his entire database.

“I’ve seen (only) one, and I’ve been an orthopedic surgeon since 1999,” Kharrazi said. “I take care of a lot of basketball players, so I see ankle injuries all the time, and I’ve only seen it once.”

After Game 2, Porziņģis downplayed the seriousness of the injury and said he was willing to die out there on the court. When asked about it Tuesday, he said, “I mean, I hope not, but if it comes to that to win, yes.”

Porziņģis has suffered several lower-body injuries this season and throughout his career. The Celtics were fortunate his calf strain only caused him to miss a little over a month during the playoffs.

While the Celtics said this injury is not connected to his right calf strain, there is always a question of whether compensating for one injury can lead to another. Porziņģis suggested that was a contributing factor to his original calf strain when he suffered that injury in April. But this injury seems to be unique.

Jay King: Not only is it an uncommon injury in the NBA, but it’s an uncommon injury in general. A Celtics team source suggested most people who suffer from it probably think they have sprained an ankle because the symptoms are similar. There’s simply not an NBA comparison to predict how Porziņģis’ injury will impact him over the rest of the series.

The big man appeared to be walking fine at practice Tuesday but was not on the court during the small portion open to the media. He said he intended to spend his day getting treatment and trying to do anything possible to prepare himself to play in Game 3, but the Celtics training staff will have the final say.

“From my side, nothing is going to stop me unless I’m told I’m not allowed to play,” Porziņģis said. “That’s the only reason I would not be out there.”

The Celtics have controlled the series so far, but Porziņģis’ potential absence is a significant hit for them.

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Weiss: Mazzulla made a prescient decision at the onset of this series to bring Porziņģis off the bench. The big man played 21 minutes in Game 1 and 23 in Game 2. If he does miss Game 3, Boston won’t have to reconfigure its rotation much. Al Horford remains the starter, but then Mazzulla has to decide if he wants to bring in a backup center or build lineups around Jayson Tatum at the five.

Boston has been exposed defensively in the playoffs when going to Luke Kornet or Xavier Tillman. Dallas has not been able to get its lob game going or create corner 3s in this series, but Boston having to go beyond its top-eight rotation could open the door for the Mavs’ bread-and-butter actions. The hope for the Celtics is that it won’t matter and Porziņģis will be able to play through the injury.

King: Porziņģis has been a difference-maker over the first two games of the finals. The Celtics have outscored the Mavericks by 25 points during his 44 minutes on the court, while being even over the other 52 minutes of the series. Porziņģis has punished switches in the post, especially from the free-throw line. He has been red hot on midrange jumpers over smaller defenders, one of his favorite shots all season.

Beyond that and his rim protection, which has been impactful, the ability to use a sharpshooting center at all times is critical for Boston in this matchup. The Celtics have functionally used guards like Jrue Holiday and Derrick White as big men in this series, while the actual big men have spaced Dallas’ rim protectors to the 3-point arc. The Celtics’ other options behind Porziņģis wouldn’t be able to replace his shooting threat. Going to either Kornet or Tillman would cramp the floor on the driving lanes that have been open for Tatum and Jaylen Brown.

Would Mazzulla try Tatum at the five? It could be a good idea. Tatum has typically guarded either Lively or Daniel Gafford anyway. Playing Tatum at center would leave the Mavericks with several tough matchups, though rebounding could become an issue for the Celtics if they downsize to that extent. I don’t know if Kornet or Tillman is the issue in this series, just because their presence on the court would give Dallas a place to help from.

Weiss: Whether or not Porziņģis plays, it’s apparent the Celtics will have to compensate for this injury. If he plays, he’s likely going to be limited in his lateral movement and ability to leave his feet to contest shots. Dallas has been aggressive pushing him off his spot in the high post, so can he still fight back to get to his shots?

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Horford is going to have to step up his minutes after playing 30 in Game 1 and 28 in Game 2. When Porziņģis was out, he played 40 minutes in Games 1 and 4 of the conference finals. In a matchup against an Indiana Pacers team that almost always keeps a center out there, Mazzulla relied primarily on Horford with a short stint or two for Tillman. Do you expect that to happen again if Porziņģis is out?

King: I would not be surprised at all to see another 40-minute night for Horford if the injury sidelines Porziņģis. That Pacers series might have even been more challenging physically, just because of how fast they play. And Horford was still great deep into his long outings against Indiana. But he’s 38, and there would be a chance that he’ll wear down at the end of games if he needs to play too much.


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(Photo: Adam Glanzman / Getty Images)





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