JUST IN: Kristaps Porzingis Masks Old Celtics Issues in Opening….

The Celtics won opening night despite losing the margins thanks to a 2022-like defensive effort and Porzingis closing a debut Boston has never seen.

NEW YORK — Kristaps Porziņģis entered the final three minutes of his Celtics debut with 21 points, Boston trailing by four with New York on an 11-6 run. Porziņģis didn’t score for the entire first half of the fourth quarter, hit with a flopping call and missing a pair of jump shots as New York raced into the final frame on a 13-2 swing.

For Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown — crunch time simplified by looking for their new 7-3 scorer. A fix that, along with the defensive disruptiveness Porziņģis allowed, turned a game that reflected past meltdowns into a grind-out 108-104 win more reminiscent of the 2021-22 Celtics. Porziņģis scored nine straight points and 12 of Boston’s final 18 to finish with 30 points, eight rebounds and four blocks on 8-for-14 shooting, finishing 5-of-9 from deep and 9-for-10 at the free throw line. Most importantly — he contested a league-high 13 shots.

“We’re not the biggest team. I’m 6-9, 225,” Tatum joked. “We’ve all gotta be on the same page, we’ve gotta help each other and I think we did a great job of that, flying around. We gotta clean up the rebounding some more, especially with one true big out there. We’ve gotta help each other, but there’s a lot we can learn from tonight. We were calm, collected and executed the final four minutes after we called that timeout. We knew what to run, we knew what sets to be in, who to attack to make the right play and guys made shots. K.P. made shots.”

The Celtics faltered up to that point, outscored in the fourth 31-26 and trailing by six with 4:10 remaining after back-to-back Brown turnovers led to breakout threes by Julius Randle and Jaylen BrownJrue Holiday huddled the team together and reminded them that they have time. Derrick White drove out of timeout, drawing a pair of free throws. Holiday cut back line and scored when Tatum found him for a cutting layup. Stops drove the Celtics on a night where they lost the offensive rebounding (17-7), turnover (13-9), three-point and field goal volume battles while tying in free throw attempts on a frustrating night for Brown and the bench. The Knicks shot only 37.1% from the field.

Porziņģis settled down the offense following Brown’s mistakes and Holiday’s block on Randle by posting Quentin Grimes and winning a positioning battle on the defensive boards against Isaiah Hartenstein. An exciting return to play his first team with his new one reached a crescendo when the crowd reacted to a late play, where Porziņģis appeared to clip Hartenstein’s chin with his elbow, and the crowd broke into a f*** Porziņģis chant. Porziņģis smiled and said he didn’t hear it, saying he plays better playing loose rather than angry.

“That was awesome, I’m not gonna lie. Playing here at the Garden is always special,” Porziņģis said. “At one point it got really crazy when the fans got into it and they made a comeback, but we stayed poised, stayed calm and were able to finish out the game making some big plays, hitting some free throws and overall fun game to play in.”

Joe Mazzulla will hope for more free-flowing offensive play on Friday against the Heat after he saw Boston play hesitant trying to hammer the game plan. He’ll try to integrate more actions to involve White and Holiday, who started over Al Horford after some preseason suspense, a team decision made over many conversations with the top six. The starters led a 30-18 start in the first quarter powered by holding New York to a 2-for-13 start while the Knicks tried to post and overpower Porziņģis in his drop position. Holiday switched onto Randle often, limiting him to a 1-for-10 in their 24 individual possessions ending in a shot, free throws or a turnover.

Rotating into second units that included Brown, White, Horford, Sam Hauser and Luke Kornet led to recognizable brushes with offensive stagnancy into the second quarter. Tatum and Holiday returned midway through the frame to connect on a touchdown pass layup after Horford fouled twice screening. Holiday threw away a turnover passing to his left on the drive, one of two giveaways in succession in his debut, then Brown launched a three-point miss after the crowd got on him for slipping off his pivot foot into his dribble move. But on the other end, the Celtics held the Knicks to an 8-for-21 start as Porziņģis repeatedly altered shots in the lane.

“We’ll get used to playing with everybody,” Mazzulla said. “Us as a staff, we just have to find a balance of not over-coaching the offense, letting the guys play with instincts, but also making sure we execute. Tonight, guys were a little hesitant because they were trying to execute the game plan instead of trying to play together and flow. So I think we’ll learn from that and that’ll just come with time. Then, the blocked shots, I thought K.P, Al and Jrue, with those three guys, you’re able to really change matchups defensively and I thought the three of those guys did a good job of doing that in the second half and we were able to go to some different coverages and matchups because of that … we’ve just gotta simplify (the offense) for (Jrue), Derrick and Jaylen as a staff so they can get that flow together.”

Tatum showcased his rejuvenated post game and powered through Randle to end the half and hit Mitchell Robinson with his fourth foul early in the third. He’d later return to the post to tie the game at 93 in the fourth by battering Grimes for an entire possession. First, a Jalen Brunson turnover and Randle miss sent the Celtics out on the run, where they finished 8-for-10, but after a Randle three-point play and Grimes three, Brown’s botched layup left Brown behind the stanchion set Randle up for a practice shot the other way that pulled New York within a point.

As starters began rotating back in closer to the fourth, Porziņģis lost his dribble, resetting himself on a pass back from Horford to drive through Josh Hart for free throws. He put back a missed Tatum jumper inside. Then he went into closing mode, hitting a three on a pass from Brown, driving through Grimes for free throws, catching Hartenstein off-balance in the corner and converting way behind the line away from a double team on Tatum. Brunson missed the technical free throw on the taunting call against Porziņģis, and Tatum looked to his right in the bonus during a scramble possession ahead by two points for more Porziņģis free throws.

The final stop, ahead by four, featured more arms flying, more Knicks hesitant to put up a shot and a scramble for a loose ball erasing the remaining clock.

That’s something the Celtics hope to see more of this year — even on a bad shooting night.

“They go to double me late, make the right play, find the open man,” Tatum said. “Obviously (Porziņģis) can shoot from wherever. He’s really good. He’s really, really good and we’re lucky to have him. I had too many turnovers. First game of the season. Cut me some slack.”

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