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Sam Hauser scores 15 as Celtics bench comes alive in victory over Nets

Sam Hauser had 5 threes, Payton Pritchard finished with 13 points, and Luke Kornet grabbed 6 offensive rebounds in a well-rounded bench effort that helped the Celtics overcome the Nets.  

NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Boston Celtics Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

In October, Sam Hauser shot 20% from three, well below his career average of 42%. But after a few uncharacteristic games, those early-season struggles have quickly dissipated.

In November, Hauser’s three-point shooting percentage has skyrocketed up to 53.1%, much closer to his norm. He’s hit 17 of his last 31 three-pointers and is quickly solidifying his spot among the Celtics top reserves.

Last night, in a 121-107 In-Season Tournament win over the Brooklyn Nets, Hauser finished with 15 points on 5-10 shooting to go along with two rebounds and an assist.

Hauser was the early favorite for the back-up wing spot heading into the season, but offseason signings like Svi Mykhailiuk and Lamar Stevens threatened to at least make things interesting.

Now, as his shooting touch has returned and his all-around play remains solid, Hauser seems destined to continue being one of the Celtics’ important rotation players.

The reserves have done a little bit of everything

Joe Mazzulla was never worried about the production of his bench unit — not about Hauser, the three-point marksman who carved a real role as a backup forward on the team last season after going undrafted in 2021.

Nor was Mazzulla worried about back-up point guard Payton Pritchard, who signed a four-year, $30 million extension in the offseason, and is usually the one setting Hauser up for a clean look. Pritchard is shooting just 23.5% from the field so far this season and a particularly uncharacteristic 15% from three.

“I never lose confidence in them because of the work they put in,” Joe Mazzulla said of his reserves after the game.

So far this season, Sam Hauser has been the Celtics leading scorer off the bench, averaging 9 points and 3 rebounds per game. No other bench player is averaging more than 5 points a game — Al Horford is averaging 5 and Pritchard is averaging 4.4.

At the same time, Hauser, who was once perceived as a defensive liability, has the second-best defensive rating on the team (106.7), second only to Jayson Tatum. While teams often try to target Hauser defensively, he usually holds his own quite well, instead throwing off opponents’ offensive rhythm.

“It’s easy to look at the scoring and say, ‘they’re not producing’ but there’s so much other stuff they do on a daily basis,” Mazzulla said. “Our defense has been tremendous with them on the floor, and tonight we got to see the other side of that.”

On Friday night, offensive rebounds were the name of the game for the Celtics bench. Luke Kornet (6 offensive rebounds) and Payton Pritchard (4) combined for more offensive boards than the entire Nets team (9). Those are career-high numbers for both reserves.

Payton Pritchard bounces back

At the same time, Payton Pritchard was finally able to get some points on the board. He finished with 13 points and 3 assists after going 0-11 from the field in the previous three games combined.

“Joe came to me and said ‘you’re going to continue to play, you keep impacting winning in other areas, and that’s all that matters,’” Pritchard said.

Pritchard didn’t completely break out of his shooting struggles, finishing 2-7 from three on the night. But, the pair he did sink could help him going forward.

“As far as shooting goes, I just went through a stretch where I wasn’t making shots,” Pritchard said. “It happens. It’s happened a couple of times in my career, in college and stuff. Shooting just comes and goes. I’m sure I’ll get it back.”

At the same time, assurances from his coach that he will continue to see the courts has helped him stay positive and contribute in other ways.

“These slumps at the end of the day will pay dividends and will make me a better player overall,” Pritchard said. “I’m not hitting shots, so these last couple of games I had to find other ways to impact, to be an all-around player and not just a shooter. It’s part of the game.”

Luke Kornet finished with seven points, an assist, and a block, most notably converting on this crowd-energizing alley-oop from Derrick White.

At the end of the day, the game wasn’t won by the Celtics bench.

Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown combined for 51 points. Jrue Holiday finished one assist short of a triple double. Kristaps Porzingis took just four shots but dominated the matchup defensively.

But the trio of Hauser, Pritchard, and Kornet had their best collective game of the season. Hauser has now hit at least 3 three-pointers in three consecutive games. Pritchard is becoming one of the top offensive-rebounding guards in the league (at least if we’re assessing that stat proportional to height). Kornet is reminding critics why he was able to carve out such a consistent back-up center role last season.

And, most importantly, the Celtics came out on top in their first-ever In Season Tournament game.

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