He wasn’t the only one. A few Wizards staffers went over to greet Porzingis in the visiting locker room before tip-off, and assistant coaches joked with him during the first few plays of the game. After he had a career year last season with Washington, Porzingis got enthusiastic applause when he jogged out to warm up and when he was announced as a starter. But that might have had something to do with the annexation of Capital One Arena by Celtics fans Monday night.
“I’m happy. This is what I wanted. But I was also a little sad to go,” Porzingis said before helping the Celtics kneecap his old team during a 126-107 win that was far less respectable than the final score suggests.
By the time the Celtics (3-0) worked their way to a 26-point lead — which took all of 9:36 — the polite, pleasant, 7-foot-2 Latvian began to look like a Trojan horse meant to lull Washington into a false sense of security.
Boston shot 50 percent. Porzingis had 15 points, six rebounds and three assists, his rare talents barely needed with Jaylen Brown (36 points) and Jayson Tatum (33 points) running a frictionless offense. Those three weren’t needed in the fourth quarter.
“I think we played on our heels most of that [first] quarter. Thankfully we were able to bounce back a little bit — better in the second, third and fourth. … We showed a little fight,” Wizards Coach Wes Unseld Jr. said. “I was proud of those young guys for competing.”
In fairness to the Wizards (1-2), Monday night ended as it was meant to. Washington is more focused on building good basketball habits than stacking wins, and Porzingis gives the talented Celtics a more well-rounded shape offensively that they hope pushes them to a title in June.
The 28-year-old already has made a difference, spurring Boston to a season-opening win in New York while soaking in chants of “F— Porzingis!” at Madison Square Garden, another old home arena of his.
“[He’s] changing our late-game frequency,” Celtics Coach Joe Mazzulla said. “[In] New York, we still posted a little bit, and last game we were able to continue to play out of the post, and it forces teams to kind of match up with us a little bit more traditionally, and that allows us to get to our spots. … I’ve seen him make the game a little bit easier for Jayson and Jaylen because of those matchups and because of our spacing.”
Nice for the Celtics. Terrible for the Wizards, no matter how they measure success.
There wasn’t much foundational basketball to be seen in the first three quarters as the Wizards tried in vain to keep up with the visitors. Rookie Bilal Coulibaly earned his first start as Unseld employed a small lineup with center Daniel Gafford out with a sprained left ankle suffered in Saturday’s home opener against Memphis.
So the Celtics exploited their size advantage and toyed with the Wizards’ slow, saggy defense. They pummeled Washington for 24 points in the paint in the first quarter and walked into three-pointers as they pleased. With Avdija (supported by some hopeless help defense) on him for much of the night, Brown made eight three-pointers.
“Obviously those guys are amazing talents, but I think we gave them too much respect,” said Kyle Kuzma, who led the Wizards with 21 points and added five rebounds and four assists.
The offense was hard to watch. The Wizards were losing so much ground on defense that they were overexcited when they got the ball and often lost control, occasionally in their own half. When they did successfully bring the ball up the court, Jordan Poole and Kuzma too frequently took it upon themselves to make something happen.
Avdija had 11 points and seven rebounds, and Tyus Jones added 11 points and seven assists. Coulibaly had nine points and five rebounds. The night’s rare positives came during the fourth-quarter battle between the teams’ end-of-the-bench players. Two-way player Eugene Omoruyi had 14 points in 12 minutes as the Wizards won the quarter 32-18.
After the final whistle, Porzingis — who had been watching comfortably from his spot on the sideline for a long while by then, rose to give one more hug, this one for Unseld.
“I enjoyed coaching him. He’s a great human being. He had a tremendous year for us,” Unseld said. “I’m happy he’s healthy. … You pull for guys that compete, and he did a lot of good things for our locker room. I’m proud of where he is, and I hope things go well for him — other than the times that we have to play the Celtics.”
Note: The Wizards exercised their fourth-year contract option for guard Corey Kispert and their third-year options on forward Patrick Baldwin Jr. and guard Johnny Davis for the 2024-25 season, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. The Wizards’ moves came a day ahead of the league deadline.