Kristaps Porzingis made his season debut in the Mavericks’ 104-93 victory against the Hornets tonight, and such a highly anticipated return warrants a deep dive into his minutes.
Porzingis saw his first action since August 21, when he scored 34 points in 38 minutes in Game 3 of the first round series with the Los Angeles Clippers. After doctors discovered a torn meniscus in his right knee, Porzingis was shut down for the rest of the series, and had surgery in early October to repair the damaged meniscus.
Starting at forward, Porzingis went to work quickly, grabbing a defensive rebound and firing off a 3-pointer (a miss) within a minute. A couple of possessions later, he had his first bucket of the season, a long 3-pointer off an assist by Luka Doncic. Despite being off the court for months, Porzingis didn’t have to knock off much rust, looking fluid and confident immediately. Coming off the floor with 5:54 left in the first, Porzingis was 2-4 from the floor, including 2 of 3 from behind the arc.
Porzingis checked back in to start the second quarter, and still aggressive, got a jumper off within 30 seconds. A few possessions later, the lanky Latvian made one of his best plays as a Maverick, driving to the basket with a smooth athleticism and finishing strong. It’s not a play he makes often, and it rarely looks as polished as this.
Porzingis checked out with 5:43 left in the second, finishing the half with 12 minutes, shooting 4-of-10 from the floor, including 2-of-6 from deep, good for 10 points, two rebounds, and one block. Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle kept Porzingis’ stints to a tight six minutes, and it seemed to keep the Dallas big man fresh throughout the game.
It didn’t take long for Porzingis to make his mark in the second half, returning to the floor to begin the third quarter and hitting a 3-pointer on his first attempt off a nice assist by Tim Hardaway Jr. Just two possessions later, Porzingis hit another shot from deep, again assisted by Hardaway. The third quarter was arguably Porzingis’ best defensive stretch — he notched a block and two rebounds in just five minutes, leaving with 6:46 left.
Porzingis returned at the start of the fourth quarter, finally showing some signs of fatigue. He went 0-of-3 from the field, missing the only 3-pointer he attempted. The energy was gone on defense, and Porzingis was unable to grab any rebounds. He exited with 8:34 left in the game, his night over.
While Porzingis wasn’t necessarily on a minutes restriction, Carlisle did seem to have a plan for how long his star big man would be on the floor. The short stretches kept Porzingis fresh, as evidenced by his hot shooting. Despite missing the first nine games of the season, Porzingis didn’t miss a beat, finishing the game 4-of-9 from behind the arc with 16 points while playing 21 minutes.
The early hook in the fourth quarter was probably intended to save some minutes for the end of the game in the event of a close score, but luckily that never materialized. Porzingis was able to finish the game on the bench, giving him plenty of rest for Friday’s matchup against the Bucks. A back-to-back against the Bulls and Raptors also looms on Sunday and Monday.
Overall, Porzingis never looked rusty or frustrated, even with the lengthy layoff. The Mavericks have sorely missed his shooting and rim protection, and once he gets his stamina back to normal basketball levels, Porzingis should offer another all-star threat to an offense that reached historic levels last season. As Carlisle said after the game: “He’ll only get better from here.”