NBA Finals Notebook: Porzingis a go, Kyrie and LeBron make nice, Hardaway Jr. throws shade at dad

BOSTON (AP) — Celtics 7-footer Kristaps Porzingis said he will be ready to “just go out there and hoop” for Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday night after missing Boston’s last 10 games with a strained left calf.

“It was a long road to get to this point for me. But feeling good,” he said at media day on Wednesday. “(It) burns inside of me, not being able to be out there. But tomorrow finally I’ll get the chance and I’m excited.”

Porzingis said he couldn’t predict how it will be once he gets into a game for the first time since April 29.

“I did as much as I could to prepare for this moment, but there’s nothing like game minutes and game experience that I’m going to get tomorrow,” he said. “It will be tough to jump into the finals like this.”

An offseason acquisition that helped solidify the Celtics frontcourt, Porzingis averaged 20 points, 7.2 rebounds and almost two blocks per game. But he was again dogged by injuries that limited him to 57 games.

He left Game 4 of the first-round series against the Miami Heat and missed all of the next two rounds, when Boston eliminated Cleveland in five games and swept the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference finals.

“Guys so far have been playing great, taking care of business, guys stepping up,” he said, singling out Al Horford’s work at center in his absence. “I just look forward to add more to complete the mission.”

KYRIE AND LEBRON

LeBron James praised former teammate Kyrie Irving on a podcast, calling him “the most gifted player the NBA has ever seen.”

The feeling is mutual.

“There’s a lot of gratitude there, as well,” Irving said on Wednesday when asked if he had heard James’ comments. “I think we both have been able to mature and really appreciate what we got a chance to accomplish.”

James said on his podcast “Mind the Game” that he’s happy and proud to watch Irving in the finals, but at the same time he’s “mad that I’m not his running mate anymore.”

“There was nothing on a basketball floor that Kyrie couldn’t do,” he said.

Irving and James reached the finals three straight seasons with the Cavaliers, winning it all in 2016 and losing to the Warriors the following year. Then Irving requested a trade, and the relationship soured.

“I think there were some things that got in the way of our relationship when I was a little bit younger,” Irving said at NBA Finals media day on Wednesday. “Now that I’m able to vocalize how I feel as a man, be comfortable in it, stand on my square, my beliefs, where I’m coming from, I feel like our relationship’s different because of that now.

“(I) definitely miss him,” Irving said. “Just a mutual respect there for what we brought to the table. His leadership, my leadership style, I think it meshed very well. I was learning a lot from him that I’m appreciative for the rest of my life.”

Irving wound up in Boston, where he also had a still-festering fallout. In previous trips back to the Garden, he has been received rudely and a similar welcome is expected for Game 1 on Thursday night.

TRASH-TALKING TIM

Tim Hardaway Jr. couldn’t resist the chance to talk trash about his father.

Asked on Wednesday what it meant for him to be playing in the NBA Finals for the first time, Hardaway said, “It means a lot. Especially being the first of my family to do so.” Reporters chuckled and gasped.

Hardaway’s father was a five-time All-Star in 13 NBA seasons and was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2022. He finished in the top 10 of the NBA MVP voting three times, and also won a gold medal at the 2000 Olympics.

But he only made it as far as the conference finals once, losing with the Miami Heat to Michael Jordan’s Bulls in 1997.

Hardaway Jr. has never averaged 20 points in a season, like his father did five times, and his award votes have come mostly as a sixth man. But he said he had the advantage of his father’s experience.

“I wouldn’t get to this point without my dad,” he said. “He’s always by my side. He’s always a phone call away. He’s always supporting me, always coming to the games. He’s a phone call away when I’m struggling, when I’m not, even if I’m having great games in a stretch, he’s telling me to keep my head down, don’t stop, keep that energy, keep that flow going. And, he’s always reiterating to me: always have fun. He’s been telling me that since high school, and that’s what I’ve been trying to do my whole entire career.

“The guy has lived it and done it. So, you know, that’s that’s that’s the luxury I do have of having a father that played in this league.”

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