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Payton Pritchard shines in Celtics win over 76ers

After being relegated to cleanup duty last season, Payton Pritchard is poised for a larger contributing role.

NBA: Preseason-Philadelphia 76ers at Boston Celtics Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

As the dust still settles after an offseason of major roster shakeups, the Celtics kicked off their preseason against the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday night. Newly-acquired Celtics Jrue Holiday and Kristaps Porzingis took the parquet under the lights at TD Garden for the first time as Boston trotted out all of their fresh faces.

Even with all of the palpable excitement around their star-studded cast, Boston’s blockbuster moves left some roles to fill, especially for the team’s sixth man following the trade of Malcolm Brogdon. In Boston’s first game of preseason action, it seems the team found its true solution to Brogdon’s absence: Payton Pritchard.

Last season, after the team initially acquired Brogdon from the Indiana Pacers, any semblance of a role all-but-evaporated overnight for the former Oregon Duck. Add in the deadline acquisition Derrick White, and the path to steady minutes and a consistent role became unclear. Boston’s backcourt of Marcus Smart, White and Brogdon was a three-headed monster for other teams to handle, but it also left Pritchard on the outside looking in.

It wasn’t long before Pritchard’s understandable frustration bubbled to the surface, especially after being a big contributor during the team’s Finals run. Multiple reports about the guard seeking a trade came out, including interview pieces where Pritchard voiced his desire to play a bigger role on a team. This season, it seems that’s exactly what the sharpshooter will get in Boston, and following a four year, $30 million extension, Pritchard’s mentality and confidence are striking a different chord.

“Really just the love of the game,” said Pritchard on what kept him going, “Obviously I had good people in my corner that kept my head on right but other than that, I just love to play basketball. That’s why I showed up every day to keep getting better and better and better. Because this is what I want to do. I don’t want to do anything else. So I won’t let it ever break me because I’m trying to play as long as possible.”

On Sunday, Payton Pritchard led all scorers with 26 points in addition to two rebounds and four assists over 23 minutes. The frenetic energy he brought to the Celtics second unit was contagious as he flew around the court, pushing the pace and fearlessly firing from deep. On 9-of-14 shooting and 6-of-11 from beyond the arc, Pritchard torched the Sixers, including 16 in the fourth quarter. His efforts reminded fans why the Celtics front office was so reluctant to move on from him, and even why the team gave him a sizable extension after all of last season’s trade chatter.

“Feels really good,” said Pritchard, “Just to be secure, lock it in, and be a part of a great organization, a great city. Obviously, I think this is the best basketball organization and city in the NBA. Feels good.” Beyond inking the extension, Pritchard is poised to get the one thing he wanted in Boston: a contributing role on a winning team.

It was good business to get the extension out of the way for the Celtics and Pritchard, and gave both sides some sense of insurance and security following last year’s discontent. With Malcolm Brogdon and Marcus Smart no longer with the team, that new deal signaled a vote of confidence, and one that could pay dividends.

Boston will have a quick turnaround and another preseason matchup tonight on the road tonight against the New York Knicks. 7:30PM EST tipoff.

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