It was another great start for the Boston Celtics on Friday night, as they jumped out to an early lead, up 36-22 by the end of the first quarter. However, the Sacramento Kings, who claim the second-best offense in the league (behind Boston, battled back. By halftime, the score was 64-62 Boston, and with 3:12 left in the third quarter, Sacramento led 84-79.
That’s when Payton Pritchard and Luke Kornet checked into the game.
Boston tied the game within a minute of game time, and by the time there was 1:37 left in the third, they led 87-84. They ballooned their lead to 94-84 by the fourth, and from there, it became a blowout.
Despite not making an appearance up until that point, Pritchard (12:47) and Kornet (15:12) were thrown into the fire and delivered when the Celtics needed it most. While head coach Joe Mazzulla admitted that the team’s foul trouble played a part in them entering the game, he also commended them for staying ready at all times.
“Foul trouble obviously played a part in that. But at the same time, just capitalizing on our depth. We talked about it from day one - we have a lot of different ways we can go. And credit to both Payton and Luke for, you know, what they do on a daily basis to stay ready.”
Joe Mazzulla spoke about the energy Payton Pritchard and Luke Kornet gave the Celtics off the bench tonight pic.twitter.com/rQWmkxutr7— Celtics on NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSCeltics) November 26, 2022
Pritchard ended the night with nine points on 2-of-3 shooting from three-point range, while Kornet tallied four points, five rebounds, and two blocks.
Neither player has earned regular playing time this year, as they play 10.5 and 12.7 minutes per game, respectively. It’s a big ask for a coach to expect their players to be fully warmed up after sitting out an entire half, but Pritchard and Kornet have accepted that responsibility.
Pritchard admitted as much after the game. He explained his role on the team, noting that he’s always ready to jump in and contribute at a moment’s notice.
“My energy. Being ready to hit my shots. You know, whatever the team is needing at that moment. Right now, I think my role on this team is to be an energy boost. So when my number’s called, I got to be ready.”
"Right now I think my role on this team is to be an energy boost, when my number is called I have to be ready" @ChrisForsberg_ talking with @paytonpritch3 after the Celtics big win over Kings pic.twitter.com/JwmlH4iMnY— Celtics on NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSCeltics) November 26, 2022
So far this year, Pritchard has taken a step back in the rotation due to the addition of Malcolm Brogdon. Despite that, he’s still churning in efficient performance after efficient performance. He’s averaging 5.1 points, 1.8 rebounds, and 1.2 assists on 46.5% shooting from the field and 40.9% shooting from distance.
With trade talks beginning to circulate around the league, some have speculated that he could be moved at the deadline in Boston’s quest to add more big man help. However, with how often Brogdon and Smart miss time, he’s been an invaluable asset to have.
As for Kornet, he’s focused on earning the team’s trust as the go-to backup big. He’s putting up 3.9 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 1.1 assists this year on 66.7% shooting from the floor.
Luke Kornet: "Yourself, the unit you're with, the whole bench & the whole arena... you all feel the momentum & energy together" pic.twitter.com/f01KOV1wk8— Celtics on NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSCeltics) November 26, 2022
The big man echoed Pritchard’s team-first message. He said that while he’s glad he helped turn the tide against Sacramento, it doesn’t matter which group turns things around.
“Whether it’s your group that’s in or when you’re on the bench, like, just to finally feel it clicking like that and making shots and to be able to kind of put the game away, it does feel great. Whether it’s like yourself, the unit you’re with, the whole bench, and the whole arena, it’s like, you all kind of feel the momentum and energy together. And it just seems like things keep stacking in the right direction when that starts happening.”