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‘That’s what I do!’ Payton Pritchard picked a perfect time for his best game of the playoffs

“I came into this game ready and just let it show.”

NBA: Playoffs-Milwaukee Bucks at Boston Celtics
Payton Pritchard scored 14 points and was plus-14 in the Celtics’ 109-81 win over the Bucks in Game 7 on Sunday.
Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Midway through the fourth quarter Sunday, with the Celtics’ lead ballooning by the minute, Payton Pritchard caught a pass from Al Horford and drilled a 3-pointer in Bobby Portis’ face that elicited a Mike Breen’s signature “BANG!”

As he backpedaled downcourt, Pritchard pointed at his chest and barked, “that’s what I do!” It was a difficult statement to disagree with as he backed it up time and time again. If the T-shirts aren’t already in the works, they should be soon.

Less than a minute later, he buried a step-back 3 with Jrue Holiday on him to extend the lead to 21. While Game 7 is officially “The Grant Williams Game,” Pritchard’s performance certainly earned him a footnote in the “Boston Celtics: 2022 NBA Champions” book. He finished with 14 points on 5-of-7 shooting, added 5 rebounds and 3 assists and was a plus-14 in the Celtics’ convincing 109-81 triumph over the Bucks.

“I got in the gym last night and really focused in,” Pritchard told NBC Sports Boston’s Abby Chin. “I came into this game ready and just let it show.”

It can be difficult as a struggling shooter to watch high-percentage shots clang off the rim over and over. While Pritchard’s confidence earlier in the series never wavered, his production simply wasn’t where it needed to be.

He averaged 2.6 points on 25 percent shooting over the first six games, looking like a shell of himself as he tried to find his jumper. Pritchard didn’t even score at all in Games 3, 4 or 6. As he missed shots, though, he continued to affect the outcome in other ways, consistently hustling, making the extra pass and even getting in Giannis Antetokounmpo’s face and forcing him to give the ball up on occasion.

Head coach Ime Udoka could have trimmed his rotation to seven, but he elected to trust Pritchard. Even though his minutes decreased, he still saw action, continued to play hard and patiently waited for another opportunity to prove himself in Game 7.

Pritchard hit his first 3 of the night late in the first quarter, and once he did, he started hunting for shots like he always should. Contrary to popular belief, he’s not out there for his shot-blocking. He has to be a threat from downtown.

He did more than just shoot, though, showing his versatility all night in pivotal moments. Here, he snatched the ball away from Pat Connaughton and hit Marcus Smart for a wide-open 3-pointer.

Earlier, he penetrated and found Al Horford for an easy two to help ignite a second quarter run for the Celtics. It felt like the Celtics moved the ball and generated high-percentage looks whenever Pritchard was on the court and in attack mode.

“I’ve been struggling a little bit, hitting shots here and there, so for me, it was just trying to find ways to affect the game,” Pritchard said.

Pritchard said the Celtics knew it would be a long, intense series against the defending champs. They’re thrilled to get another crack at the Heat in The Eastern Conference Finals, and Pritchard is eager to keep both his own and the team’s momentum rolling Tuesday night and beyond.

“This is what we dream of, and we work for it all year,” Pritchard said. “It’s going to be a great challenge, but we’re ready for it.”

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