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CelticsBlog Players of the Week #22 and #23: Jayson Tatum and Payton Pritchard

Our final two Player of the Week awards go to players in very different positions on the roster.

NBA: Playoffs-Miami Heat at Boston Celtics Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

The regular season has reached its end, and we now sit in the brief quiet before the storm that is the NBA Playoffs. While we wait for postseason action to begin, we’ve got some awards to catch up on. With the last week of the NBA season being a traditionally uneventful one for a team like the Boston Celtics, we’ve opted to combine the last two weeks together and award the final two Player of the Week awards for this season at the same time.

We have seven games to cover here: Tuesday’s letdown loss to the Washington Wizards, followed by the highly successful back-to-back wins over the Milwaukee Bucks and Utah Jazz in the first week. In the second, we have the narrow loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, consecutive wins over the Toronto Raptors and a wacky Game 82 win over the perfectly mediocre Atlanta Hawks. Let’s get into it.

Honorable Mentions:

Jaylen Brown was instrumental in the dismantling of the Milwaukee Bucks, scoring 30 points on 13-20 shooting in just three quarters of play, hitting the bench for the fourth along with most of the team’s starters. The next day, Blake Griffin saw a spot start with Al Horford and Robert Williams III out due to the back-to-back, and recorded a gritty 6-12-5 outing with five offensive rebounds. Malcolm Brogdon continued to be one of the most consistent bench players in the league, averaging 15 points on 50% shooting from the field even as his three-point shot hit a rare rough patch.

From there, as the Celtics hit the final week of the regular season, the core rotation saw increasing amounts of rest. This paved the way for some exciting contributions from the back end of the bench, including 27- and 26-point performances in the season finale from Mike Muscala and Sam Hauser, respectively. That 26-point outing was, in fact, Hauser’s second in a row. He connected on 14 threes over the final two games of the season. a promising resolution to a largely uneven season from the journeyman.

Now, to our winners.

Utah Jazz v Boston Celtics Photo By Winslow Townson/Getty Images

CelticsBlog Player of the Week #22: Jayson Tatum

3 GP, 32.8 MPG, 35.7 PTS (65% FG, 60% 3PT), 9.3 REB, 3 AST, 1 STL, +33

Is this the spark we’ve been waiting to see from Jayson Tatum? The Celtics’ young superstar had a nearly flawless finish to the regular season, marred only by a dud of an outing against the 76ers. Tatum has struggled since his record-setting All-Star Game performance, shooting just 44% from the field and 29% from three since play resumed, but closing out this season, he was just about as close to perfection as anyone could ask.

Mired in a slump as Tatum was, an absolute domination of the Bucks was just what the doctor ordered. “Brilliant” might be underselling how good Tatum was in Milwaukee; he piled up 40 points in less than three quarters of play, hitting the bench for the entire fourth quarter as the Celtics enjoyed their best win of the season. This came against the team with the best record in the NBA, in case for some reason you’ve forgotten.

Perhaps most of all, it’s nice to see the threes finding paydirt for Tatum again. The defensive attention he commands and, subsequently, the degree of difficulty of his shots mean that he’s never going to post the sparkling percentages of his early career, but Tatum is a far more talented shooter than that 29% mark post-ASG would suggest. The Celtics look a lot different when these looks are falling.

An underrated little wrinkle to Tatum’s game: he’s become a very capable rebounder. His rebound rate has improved in every season of his career, and now sits at 13.1% as he grabs nearly nine rebounds per game, both easily career highs. He’s always had size and length; now he’s really starting to wield those attributes alongside excellent positioning and court awareness. With Robert Williams III absent for half the season, this was a team that appeared to be perilously weak on the boards. Instead, they’ve been the league’s best team on the defensive glass. For that, Tatum deserves a huge amount of credit.

It goes without saying that this is the version of Jayson Tatum that the Celtics need to see in the playoffs. This is a talented team with a deep rotation that affords them an envious amount of wiggle room, but the NBA Playoffs are a star-driven affair, and that means that their ceiling is tied to the play of their two best players. Jaylen Brown has held up his end of the bargain, but Tatum has struggled down the stretch. Maintaining his high level of play from this week would go a long way towards ensuring a deep run in this year’s postseason.

Moving forward, our last week of the season... isn’t one to say much about, in all honesty. The loss to Philadelphia spelled an end to the Celtics’ unlikely hopes of reclaiming the one seed from Milwaukee, and it also spelled an end to serious minutes for the team’s rotation in the final week. Brown helped take down the Raptors in their first matchup, and Tatum did likewise in a cameo appearance in the second (21 points in 19 minutes!), then both sat down along with the rest of Boston’s primary rotation in Game 82.

These last few games didn’t really matter, in other words. Even still, one player in particular managed to put an exclamation mark on some otherwise forgettable basketball.

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Boston Celtics Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

CelticsBlog Player of the Week #23: Payton Pritchard

2 GP, 35 MPG, 26 PPG (54% FG, 54% 3PT), 9 REB, 8 AST, +24

The final games of the regular season for a team that has secured playoff positioning are such a glorious thing. It’s an opportunity for players who don’t normally see the court for the big league squad to enjoy some serious run — see 35 minutes of play for G-Leaguer JD Davison in the finale, for example — and within that playground, nobody had more fun than Pritchard.

My words don’t quite suffice here. Lets let a tweet do the talking. Now this is a Game 82 delight!

Based on his short career to this point, we can say with some level of comfort that Pritchard is a guard who can contribute to an NBA team at some level. That level just isn’t high enough to crack the rotation for a championship-hopeful Celtics team with a plethora of proven, talented guards. Minutes have been sparse for the 25-year-old, even before factoring in a heel injury that cost him significant time late in the year. It’s largely been a lost season.

This makes his finale to the season all the more memorable. The Celtics only saw two players complete triple-doubles this year: Tatum’s 29-14-10 in a January win against Dallas, and Pritchard’s 30-14-11 against the Hawks. On a night where the Boston bench mob chucked up a comical 54 three-point attempts, Pritchard accounted for 16 on his own and made more than half of them. Say what you want about him, but he’s certainly never lacked for confidence.

You may have concerns about the level of competition in that finale. That’s fair. The Hawks also consigned most of their core rotation to the bench or to limited minutes, after all. Against the Raptors two days before, however, Pritchard saw the floor against a team that will be competing for a playoff spot in this week’s Play-In Tournament, and recorded another excellent performance in relief of Marcus Smart and Malcolm Brogdon.

These games are the Payton Pritchard Experiment writ large. He’s a talented shooter and combustible scorer who plays with no shortage of effort, finding ways to make impact plays despite his lack of size. He’s unlikely to ever be a starting caliber player on a team with real championship intentions, but ultimately, few players are. Pritchard can fill a need in an NBA rotation, and that is a worthwhile thing on its own.

It’s entirely possible that the win over the Hawks was Pritchard’s last regular season game as a Celtic. If that’s the case... well, what a way to go out. The timing may never have quite been right between the player and the team, but Pritchard played admirably when the opportunity arose. His time in Boston laid the groundwork for a real NBA career, and he carved himself a niche little piece of Celtics history in the process. Hats off to him.

Next up, regular season-wise... is nothing! The season is over, which means that all we have left to do here is name our CelticsBlog Player of the Year for the 2022-23 campaign. We’ll be back to anoint our winner in the coming days, while we all collectively prepare for the another run through the Eastern Conference Playoffs.

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