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Ime Udoka has “extreme confidence” in Payton Pritchard

After an explosion of threes against the Knicks, Boston’s head coach expressed his confidence in the young point guard.

New York Knicks v Boston Celtics Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

After an outstanding rookie season, Boston Celtics guard Payton Pritchard has gone through his fair share of struggles in his sophomore season. One offseason and one head coaching change later, Pritchard’s playing time has declined from 19.2 minutes to only 10.1 and the young guard has only appeared in 23 of Boston’s 30 games.

Things were looking up a few games ago when Pritchard exploded for 16 fourth-quarter points against the Portland Trail Blazers. He rained down a flurry of threes in the fourth quarter and got the entire bench hyped up. Despite that, he’s still been a non-factor in the rotation as of late.

That is, until last night.

Boston has six different players in the league’s health and safety protocols right now, plus both Dennis Schroder (non-COVID related illness) and Romeo Langford (neck) were out against the Knicks as well. Those absences opened the doors wide open for Pritchard to get some run, and he made the most of it.

In 28:08 of action against the New York Knicks, Pritchard poured in 16 points on 6-of-10 shooting from the field and 4-of-7 shooting from deep. Celtics head coach Ime Udoka was asked about whether or not he was surprised at Pritchard’s level of play.

“I’ve seen him in high school win state championships. Watched him in college and have extreme confidence in him, knowing when he gets the opportunity, he’s always going to be ready. It was good to see him do what he did, but not surprising.”

With the number of unavailable players, the Celtics desperately needed someone to step up, and Pritchard did just that. The 23-year-old point guard was asked about how difficult it is to only be getting sporadic minutes so far this season.

“As a competitor, it is tough. It’s a daily thing. But for me, I try to go to work every day and I try to get better and better each and every day so when my opportunity comes, like tonight, I can help my team win. And that’s the only thing I can control. So for me, it’s just when my opportunity comes, being ready and helping the team win.”

This is the first time Pritchard has played more than 20 minutes this year. Despite this, Udoka stated that “he’s extremely hungry” and is constantly in the gym preparing for his next opportunity. That work ethic showed up in a big way against New York.

When asked about the COVID issues this season, Pritchard said that “it’s crazy,” but also acknowledged that it’s something the team has had to put up with for nearly two years now. Past that, he kept his message clear and simple.

“It’s next man up and got to be ready to play. Every team is dealing with it, so you’ve got to find ways to win games and keep moving.”

There’s no doubt that Pritchard will stay ready for his next chance at earning more minutes within the rotation. If he can keep shooting at this level, Udoka might have some serious decisions to make.