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Smart: Celtics bench unit ‘really changed the game’ in win over Nets

Malcolm Brogdon, Luke Kornet, and Payton Pritchard all put up solid performances off the pine.

Boston Celtics v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

On a night when the Boston Celtics were missing two key starters - Jaylen Brown and Al Horford - a “next man up” mentality was necessary. Jayson Tatum led the team with 20 points, but Boston’s second unit stepped up in a big way, helping the Celtics earn a 109-98 victory over the Brooklyn Nets.

Three different bench players scored nine or more points - Malcolm Brogdon, Luke Kornet, and Payton Pritchard - elevating the Celtics past Brooklyn. Marcus Smart praised the second unit after the game, noting how they were able to turn the tide back in favor of the Celtics.

“We just love the way that, like I said, the next guy can step up,” Smart told NBC Sports Boston. “Like you just mentioned, Payton and Malcolm coming in, and to be honest, those two and that group with Sam [Hauser] and those two really changed the game for us. They got us on a rhythm, they got our momentum back for us, and you know, we’re proud of the guys. Each and every day we try to give those guys their flowers because we understand that they don’t get it as much. But they do a lot of the things that help this team win.”

With a little over four minutes to go in the third quarter, the Celtics found themselves down 75-70. Brogdon, Pritchard, and Kornet all checked in within the span of 20 seconds, and by the end of the period, Boston was up 84-82. During that span, Brogdon recorded six points, and Pritchard notched two.

Pritchard said the second unit was able to utilize its speed and tempo in order to help give the Celtics an advantage.

“I think the second unit, we just tried to really, like he said, push the pace, use our quickness,” Pritchard told CLNS Media. “When we’re in there, a lot of us can put it on the ground and make a play touch the paint, kick out, get to the rim. So, [it] makes us really dangerous and fast, and I think that’s what kind of changed the game is that speed.”

The 24-year-old guard, who has struggled to earn regular playing time this season, dropped nine points, three rebounds, and a steal against the Nets in 14:37 of action. He shot 4-of-7 from the floor and 1-of-3 from behind the three-point line.

His quality night followed another solid game against the New Orleans Pelicans on January 11 - the first leg of Boston’s back-to-back before taking on the Nets. Pritchard logged 17:49 against the Pelicans - his second-highest minute total of the season - and put up three points and six assists.

With Smart and Brown missing time, he’s been getting a chance to play meaningful minutes, and head coach Joe Mazzulla praised his ability to stay ready even when the playing time isn’t coming his way.

“I said it before, as far as our depth, like, I trust those guys,” Mazzulla told CLNS Media. “And to have a great team, you got to have guys that have the humility to know when it’s their time to step up. And when it’s their time not to. For Payton, I’m really happy for him. He’s maintained a level of professionalism, preparation, and just toughness to just stay the course.”

After earning his spot in the rotation toward the end of last year, Pritchard was displaced after the addition of Brogdon over the summer. Brogdon, Smart, and Derrick White have dominated the minutes at the point guard position, leaving Pritchard to fight for scraps.

Brogdon has had to make sacrifices in Boston this year, though, transitioning into a bench role for the first time since his sophomore season. He, too, had a big night against the Pelicans (20 points, four rebounds, four assists) ahead of his 16-point performance against the Nets.

He noted a similar point, stating that he and Pritchard discussed the idea of pushing the pace in an attempt to spark Boston’s offense.

“I think we just picked up the pace,” Brogdon told CLNS Media. “Me and Payton were talking about it on the bench, just playing faster. I thought we came out, we played a little bit slow. At times we struggled getting shots, good shots, easy shots, in the half court. We just picked up the pace, tried to push a little bit. Even if we didn’t get a transition bucket, we got multiple paint attacks. And, you know, by 15 seconds on the shot clock, we’re getting an open shot. So when you play well on offense, it leads to your defense getting better and better.”

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