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Celtics Praise Payton Pritchard’s Fight in Game 3 Win

MIAMI — Jrue HolidayJayson Tatum and Al Horford stood on the floor late in the third quarter when Sam Hauser and Tyler Herro tumbled to the floor. The officials called a foul on Hauser, then Herro tossed the ball at Hauser. So while Boston’s older veterans stood further away, Payton Pritchard approached Herro, with both teams soon converging then separating as Caleb Martin and Pritchard shared more words. Sam Cassell slapped Pritchard’s hand when he returned to the bench.

“It’s just the competitiveness of the game,” Pritchard said. “Obviously, I’m gonna be there for my teammate like we all are. It got a little chippy, but I’ve never been one to back down from any situation. That’s the fun part of the game. I don’t think it’s nothing crazy, it’s not like we have hatred, necessarily, off the court, but when we’re on the hardwood, we’re going to war … it’s a rivalry to me, we’ve played them so many times, so we see them every playoffs … we play each other seven times in the playoffs, that’s a lot of times seeing the same people.”

Pritchard added that he’s always been someone willing to speak up and stand up for teammates, but stepping into a major playoff role for the first time in his career allowed him to be on the floor when that situation happened. He scored seven points with three rebounds in 25 minutes in Saturday’s Game 3 Celtics win. His 23.0 minutes average through three games shattered his previous high of 13.4 from his rookie season when Boston entered the first round battered with injuries. Now, they’re a championship contender and he’s a rotation staple.

Beyond his scuffle with Martin, Pritchard poured in the first of four put backs that bolstered the Celtics’ 42-27 second quarter and grabbed two of Boston’s 10 offensive rebounds overall. Pritchard had split a pair of threes and missed a layup in the first, but getting the ball up proved important after Miami held him without a shot attempt in Game 2. His offensive efforts off the bench helped swing Game 1, and his Game 3 performance landed closer to that. Pritchard and Hauser, alongside Horford, have composed the entirety of the team’s depth with Luke Kornet injured for the games in Boston and only able to manage a two minute stint on Saturday. The second unit has won the Celtics key stretches anyway, shooting 51.1% and winning their minutes by 7.5 points per 100.

“It’s just us being competitive,” Martin said, explaining his scuffle with Pritchard. “He does a lot of stuff similar to what I do for our team. He’s one of those guys who has that type of approach and likes to bring that dog mentality to their team. We’re just competing, just trying to get after it and obviously being down at that point too, you get frustrated, but overall, we’re all just trying to do whatever we can to get our team a win.”

Pritchard firmly established a consistent seventh man role after playing sparingly behind Derrick WhiteMarcus Smart and Malcolm Brogdon last season and nearly leaving the team through a trade. He signed a four-year extension after Boston traded Smart and Brogdon, in part an affirmation of their trust in Pritchard to play more often. He averaged 9.6 points, 3.2 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 22.3 minutes per game while shooting 46.8% from the field and 38.5% from three. Among players his height or shorter, nobody grabbed more offensive boards. His improvement flashed most driving to the rim though, creating separation, and as a defender, where he held opponents to 0.65 points per possession in isolation, which finished in the 93rd percentile of NBA players.

Horford commended Pritchard for working through his difficult situation to reach this point at practice on Sunday. Joe Mazzulla called him a physical and emotional catalyst for the team, and called playoff trash talk good. Last week, after Jaylen Brown got in Martin’s face after his hard foul on Jayson Tatum, Pritchard smiled at practice and said the Celtics liked it and called it a joy to see. They’d answer that physicality, he promised, and Brown, who called for Boston to win both the fight and the game in this series, has seen it too.

“I’ve always been like that,” Pritchard said. “Obviously, when you’re playing, you get to be more involved in those things, but I think I’ve always been that type of player. Something gets chippy, I’m involved. I think it brings the best out of people. It makes me more locked in, more focused, because at that point, you gotta get each other’s best.”

As for what he said to Martin — Pritchard said that’s player to player.

Other notes from practice and shootaround on Sunday/Monday…

  • Erik Spoelstra said Terry Rozier remains day-to-day, and provided no further update on his neck injury that’s held him out of the series so far. Rozier hasn’t spoken about it and he’s out again for Game 4. Brown said he hasn’t spoken with his former teammate.
  • Brown challenged Kristaps Porziņģis to command his space so that even if he doesn’t catch the ball, he’ll draw defensive attention inside. The Celtics noticed him getting pushed out of the lane in what he called the worst game of his Boston career in Game 2. In Game 3, he bounced back with 18 points on 5-for-9 shooting and two blocks, closing the game with trips to the free throw line in the second half.
  • Kevin Love promised Miami will have a much better game plan on Monday while Spoelstra stoically called the Game 3 loss disappointing. Love blamed many of the issues from the loss on mental lapses by the Heat, and while he accepted the limitations in his defense keeping him off the floor while the Heat try to switch more, he’s told Spoelstra he’s up for the challenge if he can help more. The Heat’s lineup has been further diminished by Duncan Robinson managing only seven minutes in Game 3 playing through a back ailment. Delon Wright did not play while attending his daughter’s birth, but returns tonight.
  • Joe Mazzulla finished fourth in coach of the year voting. Spoelstra came in fifth, while Mark Daigneault won the award over Jamahl Mosley (ORL) and Chris Finch (MIN).

Bobby Manning

Boston Celtics beat reporter for CLNS Media and host of the Garden Report Celtics Post Game Show. NBA national columnist for Boston Sports Journal. Contributor to SB Nation's CelticsBlog. Host of the Dome Theory Sports and Culture Podcast on CLNS. Syracuse University 2020.

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