In last Sunday’s game against the Phoenix Suns, the Celtics were struggling to get anything going on offense. They were down double digits most of the second half until a spark off the bench got the Celtics back in the game.
Payton Pritchard is rejoining the rotation after missing some time with a knee injury. Over the last three games, he has averaged 7.7 points, 2 rebounds, and 1.3 assists in 19 minutes. This is all while shooting 47.3% from the field and an impressive 43.8% from three. There does not seem to be any cause for concern as he looks to be just about 100% while giving it his all on both ends of the court. It is the same solid bench production and shooting that made people start paying attention before the injury.
He is already becoming a better point guard option than veteran Jeff Teague and with Marcus Smart on the shelf with a strained calf, Pritchard’s rise isn’t just a pleasant surprise, but a necessary contribution. Plus, let’s not forget the other elephant in the room. Kemba Walker has really not come into full form consistently this season. He can still take over a fourth quarter and make the big shots, but it is not with the consistency the Celtics were expecting from him. Until Kemba can figure this out, Pritchard is becoming a solid option off the bench.
The biggest aspect of Pritchard’s game that has perfectly fit with this Celtics’ culture is his defensive intensity. Every single possession on defense he goes at his matchup 100%. He has become a great on-ball defender that makes some of the best players in the league look uncomfortable.
Chris Paul is one of the shiftiest and craftiest point guards in the league, and Pritchard was able to stay in front of him and force a bad shot. Paul lives for those moments to school the rookies, but Pritchard stood tall and did not give him the chance to do so. That was one of the best possessions Pritchard has had to date.
These defensive possessions are becoming Pritchard’s identity (even with Lou Will making the basket in the last clip). He is earning those minutes when he is on the floor and eventually will take Teague’s minutes if play continues on these trajectories. Jeff Teague can have a defensive possession or two like those clips above, but he is not able to put together multiple effort plays like that.
The other aspect outside of Pritchard’s intensity that fits well with the team is his three-point shooting off the bench. Pritchard is able to provide this with his confidence to shoot in big time spots.
For the season, he is shooting 44.2% from behind the arc on 3.3 threes per game (funny enough, that’s more attempts than his two-point attempts). He is putting up 50/40/90 numbers which no one could have predicted coming in to the season. Pritchard has become a sneaky sharpshooter who is also starting to show he can create his own shot. Once he unlocks this, the sky is the limit for his offensive potential.
Both of these clips show that skill to shoot off the dribble creating space on his own. Rookies in the league sometimes do not have that confidence to take the offense over and get a bucket. Pritchard has that while also understanding the role he plays on this team. Find the mismatches like Deandre Ayton and attack to find that separation for the shot.
After Pritchard was injured, most people forgot about what he was building in the first few games of his NBA career. He avoided major injury and now has picked up right where he left off. This is what makes Celtics Nation love him so much.