It’s only four games into his NBA career, but Payton Pritchard plays like a savvy veteran disguised in a rookie’s body.
Pritchard, who the Boston Celtics selected with the No. 26 overall pick in this past NBA draft, dazzled yet again in Boston’s 116-111 come-from-behind victory over the Indiana Pacers on Tuesday night.
Pritchard was at the center of helping the Celtics overcome a 17-point second-half deficit, showcasing tremendous poise for a point guard that is getting his baptism by fire in the NBA.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens stuck with Pritchard in the fourth quarter even when Stevens went back to his starters to close the game. Pritchard rose to the occasion and backed up his coach’s decision to trust a player still getting his bearings as a professional as Pritchard’s composure beyond his years is the most remarkable feature about his play.
Pritchard continually delivered in his season-high 27 minutes off the bench, shooting 4-for-8 from the floor for 10 points while adding five rebounds and five assists to significantly aid the Celtics in the completion of the their comeback.
“Having that confidence from your coach and also from my teammates, it means the world to me because it can allow me to keep growing as a player and being able to help this team when I can,” Pritchard said. “Coming off the bench, I want to be able to provide a spark, get the team either going, or help the team build more of a lead.
“I’m all about winning. This is why we play this game. I want to win and I want to help as much as I can to get a win.”
Even with veteran guard Jeff Teague on the floor with Pritchard to start the fourth quarter, the Celtics decided that Pritchard would run the show.
Pritchard had no problem pulling the right strings and pushing the right buttons, especially out of the pick-and-roll. The soon-to-be 23-year-old Pritchard continued Boston’s surge to start the final frame by using a screen from Teague before blowing past two defenders with his sneaky speed for an easy, uncontested layup.
The next sequence in which he scored was even more impressive. This time, Robert Williams set a high screen on the left wing for Pritchard and the rookie immediately attacked Domantas Sabonis off the dribble. As Pritchard drove to the paint and Sabonis recovered, Pritchard wisely used his body to create just enough separation against the 6-foot-11 Sabonis, before drawing a foul and finishing through the contact to pull the Celtics within, 94-92, with 10:03 left.
Pritchard is ballin' tonight pic.twitter.com/ZhnlSmxVMl— Boston Celtics (@celtics) December 30, 2020
“As far as finishing goes, I think it’s just getting more comfortable out there and finding angles and where I can get to the rim,” Pritchard said. “It’s my fourth game, so everything is coming at me fast. I’m still figuring things out.”
And while that may still be the case for Pritchard, Stevens had no reservations in keeping the ball in Pritchard’s hands down the stretch to orchestrate some of the offense.
“We had him running all kinds of pick-and-rolls in the second quarter and the start of the fourth,” Stevens said. “He’s poised off that stuff, he makes the right play. He’s deceptive, so he can get in, use his body and finish as we saw on a couple of occasions. He’s a guy who knows how to play.”
Pritchard’s playing so well at the moment that even when things don’t go his way initially, he has a knack for finding a way to flip the script in his favor.
With the Celtics clinging to a four-point lead with five minutes remaining, Pritchard tossed a careless lob-pass to Tristan Thompson, who was engulfed by Indiana defenders and the play resulted in a turnover.
Victor Oladipo grabbed the loose ball and took off in the other direction only for Pritchard to make amends for his mistake with all-out hustle as he chased down Oladipo and forced a steal from behind.
With the ball back in Pritchard’s hand in transition, he made the correct play this time by finding a wide-open Marcus Smart, who drained a 3-pointer for a 107-100 lead with 4:46 left.
While it’s an extremely small sample size, it’s hard not be impressed with the craftiness, energy and patience Pritchard has brought to the Celtics.
“Payton is the GOAT, man,” said Jaylen Brown. “Payton came in there with the confidence. (We) definitely needed a spark coming off the bench and Payton was everything and more for us.”