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Payton Pritchard, Luke Kornet provide “the juice” in blowout win in OKC

The rookie and newly acquired big man gave Boston a winning element after Celtics’ slow start.

Orlando Magic v Boston Celtics Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

In the final game of a five-games-in-seven-nights stretch (that also included the stress of the trade deadline), the Celtics began the game in lackluster fashion. Despite their vastly improved ball movement, Boston failed to convert their looks from every level, falling to an early deficit as a result.

Brad Stevens described the team as having “no juice” when discussing Boston’s lack of energy and facing a 12-point deficit midway through the first quarter.

“I thought the energy was low. It’s not a shock, and I don’t mean to make excuses. But this was quite a stretch, and this was a good example that you need a pick-me-up from your bench. You need a pick-me-up from guys who haven’t played as much,” Stevens said when discussing the bench’s energy-injecting performance.

The Celtics went 12 deep in their rotation and it was Payton Pritchard and new recruit Luke Kornet’s performances that provided the Celtics with the punch they needed to swing the momentum back in their favor and eventually closing out the road trip in blowout fashion.

Pritchard finished the night with 12 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 assists in a night where he logged 23 minutes with an 18.5% usage rate. After the game, the rookie guard spoke about the opportunity of an increased role following Jeff Teague’s departure.

“I can go out there, and I can be really aggressive and try to make plays. Certain times on the court with some guys, my role changes, and I’m a floor spacer. But nights like this, I try to be extra-aggressive in making things happen.”

While neither his minutes nor usage rate signaled an increased role against the Thunder, Pritchard’s work on the glass and eagerness to push the pace off rebounds married up with Danny Ainge’s comments after the team drafted the rookie 26th overall in the 2020 draft.

“He’s a guy that can plays in any system, can play with any players. I love how he pushes the pace, and he’ll make the other guys run,” Ainge said after the draft. “When he’s playing the ball in his hands, he pushes up court very quickly. He has that kind of leadership ability with the ball in his hands.”

Throughout his rookie campaign, Pritchard has flirted with a legendary 50/40/90 season but has seen his production slip in recent weeks, as the team has struggled to find consistency. The rookie detailed where his head’s at in terms of development - both in the immediate and moving forward.

“I’m always trying to be a floor general and always trying to add to my game. For this year, and next year, and years to come, I will be the player that I want to become.”

Luke Kornet was another player to impact the Celtics performance, and the correlation with his introduction to the court and the team’s game-clinching run shouldn’t go unnoticed. The 7’2’’ stretch-five provided the team with enough spacing to open driving lanes for Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown while also giving the team a different dimension when defending the rim.

“Brown was dominating us in the first half, and even in the start of the second he had some plays. We felt we needed to spread them out with shooting – that’s why we went with Luke, I thought he was really good on both ends.” Stevens said, as he was discussing his decision to go with Kornet in the fourth quarter.

Interestingly, Stevens preferred to discuss Kornet’s impact and upside as a pick-and-roll defender. “Luke’s a guy that can shoot the ball. We’ve also been intrigued with Luke for a long time because of his pick-and-roll defense. He’s long, and he affects shots at the rim – he’s a guy we’ve always had an interest in because of those two things.”

With Kornet guarding the pick-and-roll in drop coverage before rotating over to meet the roll man and contesting the shot vertically to force the miss without fouling. Interestingly, Kornet has defended the pick-and-roll for 115 possessions over the last three seasons, limiting his opponents to roughly 50% shooting and only giving up eight shooting fouls in the process - that’s good work and an encouraging defensive skill to develop.

“It’s something that I’ve definitely taken a lot of pride in, honestly towards the end of college and throughout my career, it’s something I’ve tried to provide value in,” Kornet said.

“We needed a gut check win,” Stevens noted after the victory.

In recent weeks, the Celtics have failed to string consistent performances together, and have dropped some promising leads down the stretch. With the team at the end of a grueling road trip, battling for a hard fought victory is an encouraging sign for the remainder of the season.

“It’s a great win, and a great way to finish off the road trip. Now it’s time to go home, we have our fans coming in, and it’s time for us to go out there and play Celtics basketball and make this run,” Marcus Smart said. TD Garden will welcome a limited number of fans through their doors starting tomorrow night.

One thing’s for sure, if the Celtics are looking for more “juice” on Monday against the New Orleans Pelicans, there will be plenty of it flowing from the stands.

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