Hall of Fame center Bill Walton carved a place for himself in the Boston Celtics‘ rich history as a sixth man on their 1986 championship team, and in recognition of his passing 10 days ago, the team presented a heartfelt tribute Thursday night before Game 1 of this year’s NBA Finals.

Another 7-foot Celtic then came off the bench to begin scratching out a spot of his own.

Other than the white sleeve encasing his right leg and a splayed three-point shooting stance, center Kristaps Porzingis showed no signs of the injured right calf that kept him sidelined for the last five weeks as he boosted the Celtics to a 107-89 win to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.

His stat line — 20 points, six rebounds, three blocked shots — is far too modest to capture his impact on the game; he simply blew it open. Coach Joe Mazzulla, in light of Porzingis’ long layoff, opted not to start him but bring him in as a sub, which he did to rousing applause at the 7:17 mark of the first quarter with Boston nursing a 12-11 lead. 

Seven minutes and 17 seconds later, Porzingis and the rest of the Celtics skipped to their bench, the crowd now roaring with the lead having ballooned to 17 points, the largest first-quarter margin in Finals’ history.

And no one had a bigger hand in it than Porzingis, who was a terror at both ends of the floor. The Mavs wasted no time testing him and he answered every challenge. Josh Green dunk attempt? Blocked. PJ Washington driving layup? Altered. 

Dallas had no more luck being aggressive with him at the other end. Green and Derrick Jones Jr., guarding Porzingis at the free-throw line, tried to get underneath him and throw him off balance — he simply shot over them. Faced with the taller Dereck Lively II, Porzingis pump-faked and drove for a dunk.

The Boston lead grew as large as 29 in the second quarter, but the Mavericks did not appear fazed, whittling it down to eight with a concerted charge to open the third quarter. But a free throw by Jaylen Brown, who finished with a team-high 22 points, and a cutting dunk by Porzingis pushed the lead back to double digits and Dallas did not threaten again.

Ric Bucher is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. He previously wrote for Bleacher Report, ESPN The Magazine and The Washington Post and has written two books, “Rebound,” on NBA forward Brian Grant’s battle with young onset Parkinson’s, and “Yao: A Life In Two Worlds.” He also has a daily podcast, “On The Ball with Ric Bucher.” Follow him on Twitter @RicBucher.

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Kristaps Porzingis

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