BOSTON — Payton Pritchard has delivered nearly every single time the Celtics have called his number this season. It happened when Malcolm Brogdon was out for a week and a spot in the rotation opened up. It happened again Friday, when Pritchard subbed in along with Luke Kornet as they sparked the Celtics to victory.
But it’s getting Pritchard into the game consistently that has been far from a guarantee. The Celtics are so deep and so good at the guard position that it’s difficult to find minutes for the third-year pro. And that’s despite Pritchard proven he’s an NBA-level contributor, which is why he’s such a luxury of a player to have.
Where Pritchard can thrive for the Celtics this season is what he did against the Kings in the 122-104 victory. Pritchard can be that microwave-type scorer who will knock down a few huge shots to change momentum in only a handful of minutes. That’s a difficult role, but it’s arguably Pritchard’s best path to playing time when the C’s are at full strength.
“Guys are just making the right plays,” Pritchard said. “Everybody knows their role and is trying to be the best at their role. That’s really what it is. When the second unit comes in, they want to bring energy, change the game up a little bit. And they’re doing a great job with that.”
Of course, there’s a reason Pritchard isn’t in the rotation on a nightly basis — the Celtics are that good. Boston’s guard tandem of Marcus Smart, Derrick White and Malcolm Brogdon is a three-headed beast, where every veteran deserves playing time. So it’s a numbers game for Pritchard, who would be a consistent role player on the majority of teams around the league.
There’s also the energy that Pritchard injects into games. The Garden crowd was juiced for when Pritchard checked in with 3:12 left in the third quarter. The Celtics were down six points to the Kings at time, but went on a 35-4 run sparked by the duo of Pritchard and Kornet.
To Pritchard’s credit, he knocked down a pair of free throws and a 3-pointer after checking in to change the complexion of the victory. The guard finished with nine points in 15 minutes as his early contributions made the biggest impact on the game.
“He made some big-time baskets, which I said before is really hard to do in this league,” Brown said. “Just come off and be like a microwave like that. I think that’s one of the hardest things to do in this league. Payton almost seems like he’s mastering it.”
Pritchard also commands respect in the locker room because of his work ethic. He hates talking about his playing time, electing to defer and say he’s going to be a professional. He’s never made a fuss or caused drama — his teammates have acknowledged that sacrifice on multiple occasions.
But the guard is a fan favorite, and there are going to be those who wonder whether Pritchard can carve out a consistent rotation spot. He’ll have his moments throughout the regular season, whether that’s because of injuries or resting guys. The next step, then, is cracking Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla’s rotation.
That’s where the microwave-style scorer comes in. There have been plenty of score-first guards over the years who come off the bench and score in bunches. As Brown said, that’s a tough ask considering it’s near-impossible to find a rhythm. But if Pritchard can pour in a few 3-pointers every now and then to boost the C’s, that’s another element to his game that’ll make him indispensable to the team.
“Payton brings it every single day, whether it’s just practice or a game,” Kornet said. “He loves to play basketball and he’s always ready to go and it doesn’t take him anything to be ready. He is in that state. He’s great to have on our team and he pushes guys every single day. It’s just a lot of fun to have him around.”
For now, Pritchard has shined in limited minutes this season. He won’t light up the court with 3s every time he plays, but he’s more than willing to take open looks. That’s all the Celtics need out of Pritchard for now, but if he keeps knocking down shots, the guard could make the conversation a little more interesting.
“Payton, like he always is, was ready and gave us that spark off the bench,” Brown said. “I was in foul trouble; Marcus was in foul trouble. Payton helped us win the game today. That little bit of energy that we got from him helped carry us over. That’s what we needed.”