BROOKLYN — Prepared for the worst, ready for any and every opportunity, backup point guard Payton Pritchard is making the most of his situation in Boston.
The Celtics’ injuries to core players such as Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown, who’s expected to miss up to a week with a right adductor strain, aren’t ideal for the team. Still, for Pritchard, it’s a golden ticket for increased playing time, which comes at a premium this season for the third-string guard.
His 10.1 minutes per game this season is a career-low, but when Smart missed Wednesday’s game against the Pelicans, Payton saw an uptick in his playing time and made the most of Thursday’s opportunity in Brooklyn. Unlike what we saw in the Celtics’ lopsided defeat against the Thunder — 150-117 — on January 3, where we saw Pritchard score most of his 17 points in 15 minutes while the game was out of reach, with Boston’s starters watching from the bench, these were meaningful minutes against the Brooklyn Nets, and Payton didn’t disappoint.
Jumpstarting the offense in spurts, Pritchard finished with 9 points and a steal in 15 minutes while creating second-chance opportunities for the Celtics per three offensive rebounds before All-Star Jayson Tatum checked back in and scored a team-high 20 points to put the finishing touches on a 107-98 victory at Barclay Center. It’s Boston’s fifth consecutive win, the second of a back-to-back.
Pritchard also finished with a plus-13 game rating, while Wednesday’s win marks only the third time he’s clocked in over ten minutes since December 21 versus the Pacers. Still, Payton was ready for the chance to make a difference in the Celtics’ win.
“That’s just my mindset regardless,” Pritchard told CLNS Media before Thursday’s game. “I wouldn’t be here if I (didn’t) stay ready throughout my whole career. It’s about showing up every day and working. If opportunities come, it comes.”
From falling out of Ime Udoka’s rotation throughout the first half of last season to becoming an everyday player throughout Boston’s postseason run, Payton is aware that things can drastically change — albeit playing time or the pecking order within an organization. While he’ll most likely remain behind sixth man Malcolm Brogdon on the Celtics’ depth chart, the University of Oregon product is continuing to make his case for sure increased playing time.
Mazzulla is his third head coach, which is an adjustment in itself. However, at the height of Ime Udoka’s suspension, Pritchard says not much change in terms of his and his teammates’ focus.
“It’s an adjustment. It’s different. There was a lot of things going on,” Pritchard said. “But, I think at the end of the day, everybody’s main focus was winning. We got to move on and win, and I think that was people’s focus. I mean, the practice was similar. The guys were competing.”
Playing for a team with the best record in the association (31-12) breeds championship aspirations. Pritchard remains true to getting better as a player and staying ready for opportunities, which according to him, is the kind of mindset that’s led to Boston staying atop of the Eastern Conference.
“We’re number one right now in the league. I know we’ve had some bumps in the road, but the bigger picture is: we’re still number one, and it’s a long season,” Pritchard added. “It’s just finding growth throughout the season to keep on getting better and better, and then once (we) hit that stride, you know, going into the playoffs, that’s the most important time to be clicking.”
While singing his praises for his second unit’s overall performance in Thursday’s win at Brooklyn, Joe singled out Payton’s play and comprehensive approach to the game.
“I’m really happy for him. He’s maintained a level of professionalism, preparation, and just toughness to just stay the course,” Mazzulla said after Thursday’s win. Malcolm (Brogdon), Grant (Williams), Derrick (White), those guys, they did a great job tonight. I think we showed what our team can be, regardless if we’re whole with our depth, our mindset, our toughness.”