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The moment that led the Celtics to victory in the first game of the NBA Finals

The Celtics set the tone for the NBA Finals with their win in Game 1 on Thursday.

Kristaps Porzingis, who returned as a substitute after 38 days of absence due to a strain of the soleus in his right calf, showed no signs of his old form.

The 7-foot-1 center enjoyed his first chance to play in a playoff game after the first round and made the most of it, sparking a 22-5 run that helped Boston take a 37-20 lead in the second quarter, making Boston's lead after the first period the second-largest in NBA Finals history.

“I was so in the moment and enjoying the moment and the crowd and everything,” Porzingis said after scoring 22 points, six rebounds and three blocks in the hosts' Game 1 win. “It's kind of a blur for me right now. I have to watch the game again; what happened and stuff. But I was just totally in the game. That's the best feeling. I had the most fun and I hope to have more moments like that in the future.”

In addition to the former All-Star's performance, the Celtics' masterful execution of their defensive strategy was the driving force that helped them increase their lead to 29 points.

They paired Porzingis with supporting players like PJ Washington and Derrick Jones Jr., who combined to shoot 1/5 from beyond the three-point line, allowing Jayson Tatum to rely on Mavericks centers Daniel Gafford and Dereck Lively II.

Targeting the 6-foot-8 star forward in pick-and-rolls wasn't an appealing option, and avoiding that challenge neutralized the lobs these two love, one of Dallas' most reliable methods of scoring points.

Tatum also did a great job of keeping the visitors away from the basket, grabbing nine of his game-high 11 rebounds on defense, helping to consistently limit the visitors to one shot per possession and allow Boston to maintain a fast pace of attack.

And while the hosts alternated between switching with Al Horford and drop coverage with Kristaps Porzingis, they had to give Luka Doncic everything he got. He needed 26 shots to score 30 points, hit 4 of 12 from beyond the three-point line, dished out just one assist and caused four turnovers. It's the first time the five-time All-NBA player has had fewer than two assists in a playoff game.

This strategy, and the Celtics' performance in executing it, also robbed the Mavericks of another of their most reliable sources of attack: three-pointers from the corner. They attempted only three and didn't make a single one until the final minute of the game.

“Listen, they're going to make a lot of adjustments and they're going to do a lot of great things because of their talent. So we've got to execute the game plan, communicate the coverage, communicate the matchups. The guys have done a great job of communicating with each other and putting defense first,” Joe Mazzulla told Inside The Celtics about the key to Boston's sustainable execution to minimize what Dallas does best on offense.

The only blemish was that the visitors, who had ended the first half on a 7-0 run, came out of the game with the desperation you would expect from a team that was 21 points behind in the NBA Finals.

When the Mavericks slowed down, they finally got the success they needed for a 10-2 run, with Doncic sinking a three-pointer from the left wing to cut the gap to eight points with 4:28 left in the third quarter.

That prompted a timeout from Mazzulla. And while it's hard to believe that Dallas could overcome a 29-point deficit and pull away to victory against an opponent that boasts six of the best eight players in this series, the onus was on the Celtics to prevent that from happening.

“It's the NBA Finals – you're playing against a great team and they're going to make runs,” Boston's second-year head coach explained what he said during the timeout. “It's just about understanding why the run was made. And this team does a great job of adjusting defensively on the fly and sometimes it takes us a possession or two to realize that. So it's about understanding the run, what we can do to change it and how we can improve afterward.”

What happened next was a 14-0 run as the hosts increased their energy and physicality. They went from playing slowly with a sizable lead to playing inspired defense and Jaylen Brown throwing a street party at the basket.

Those stops led to a three-point barrage on the other end, as Brown, Al Horford and Tatum sank three consecutive shots from behind the three-point line to extend Boston's lead to 20 points in the final 12 minutes.

This proved to be the decisive blow in the Celtics' 107-89 victory. Teams that win the first game of the NBA Finals at home also win the Larry O'Brien Trophy 78% of the time (46-13).

“I thought the guys had a great attitude after the timeout and that's going to continue,” Mazzulla said on the podium after the game. “They're going to make more runs and we're going to have to fight through them.”

Brown agreed, saying, “When they cut it to eight, the game started. I liked how our team responded. We stayed calm. On offense, we found our distance and were able to extend the lead again and make some plays on offense. That was a great third quarter.”

During the timeout before Boston's counterattack to defend the lead, Mazzulla's main focus was to give his players the freedom to talk about what was happening on the field.

Brown recounted that dialogue: “We just said, 'Just breathe. The game starts now. Just breathe. We're in it – this is a moment where our experience comes out. Just breathe, just keep playing basketball. When you get an open shot, (then) take it with confidence, no turnovers, take care of the basketball and just play our game.' We need to make some stops. They made some great shots. Just master the run.”

The Celtics' ability to regroup and quickly put those words into action will be paramount to defending the floor and moving within three wins of Banner 18.

Further information

Preparation and perspective inspire Kristaps Porzingis in the NBA finals

Celtics set the tone for the NBA Finals with a surprising exchange of blows in Game 1

Celtics stars reflect on lessons learned from 2022 NBA Finals

Kyrie Irving talks about his regrets and what he takes away from his game in Boston

Kristaps Porzingis explains the mental side of rehab as he prepares to return to the NBA Finals

Celtics' All-Defensive Guards Enjoy the Chance to Defend Kyrie Irving and Luka Doncic

Joe Mazzulla dismantles fabricated story about Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown

Al Horford returns to the NBA Finals and looks to expand his already cemented legacy