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Celtics’ Payton Pritchard stays prepared, makes most of opportunity in win over Nuggets: ‘I live this’

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Payton Pritchard had just made the play of the night, and his Celtics teammates couldn’t contain themselves.

Immediately, the Celtics’ bench poured onto the court. Grant Williams was the first to find Pritchard, screaming in his face. Marcus Smart was jumping up and down and waving his towel like a mad man. Even Rob Williams got in on the fun. TD Garden was going berserk.

It was about more than one play, but that’s what made the moment special. Buried on the Celtics’ depth chart because of the acquisition of Malcolm Brogdon, Pritchard hasn’t had the minutes he’s wanted after getting regular playing time during last season’s run to the NBA Finals. But he’s kept any frustration about his situation tucked inside. Instead, he’s continued to work behind the scenes, staying ready for inevitable opportunities.

“He’s great at being prepared for that moment,” Celtics interim coach Joe Mazzulla said before Friday’s game.

Then it came during the win over the Nuggets.

Pritchard had only played in three of the Celtics’ first 10 games this season before he was suddenly forced into action in Wednesday’s win over the Pistons, when Brogdon exited at halftime because of hamstring tightness. With Brogdon out on Friday, Pritchard knew he had a prime opportunity. He made it count. And right away.

Minutes into his first shift of the night early in the second quarter, Pritchard was at the center of a wild sequence:

* Luke Kornet missed a shot in the lane, but Pritchard crashed the glass to snare the rebound away from DeAndre Jordan.

* Pritchard found a cutting Derrick White, whose layup missed. Kornet’s follow also missed, but the 6-foot-1 Pritchard flew in to keep the ball alive. The ball eventually found White for another chance.

* White found Sam Hauser at the top of the key, and his 3-pointer rimmed out. That’s when it appeared the possession was over, but Pritchard was still lurking. Jordan was careless grabbing the board, and Pritchard jumped him for a putback layup. Delirium ensued.

“Every time I step on the floor I’m gonna give it everything I got,” Pritchard said.

“Usually teams don’t think I’m going to crash half the time, so they lose me,” Pritchard said. “But I just found a way to sneak in there, get my hands on the balls, tip them out or pull them down. Any way I can get an extra possession.”

Pritchard finished the night with 11 points on 5-for-6 shooting and five rebounds (including four offensive) in 16 minutes. One couldn’t blame him if he was just trying to exert some pent-up energy after spending most of the opening month on the end of the bench.

After emerging as a role player last season, Pritchard worked hard on his game this summer. He said he got quicker, among other improvements. But he didn’t have a chance to show it. Brogdon, White and Marcus Smart have gotten all the playing time among guards. It was hard for him to crack the rotation.

But he stayed working. Double sessions, continuing to lift every day, staying engaged on the bench, even going back to the facility at night to continue playing.

“I live this,” Pritchard said. “Basketball, I love this stuff. So no matter what I’m gonna stay ready and whenever I get in I’m gonna go out there and give it my all.”

Oftentimes, Pritchard can be found at the end of practices or during pregame warmups going up against Jaylen Brown in 1-on-1 battles. It’s part of what’s helped him stay ready for opportunities like Friday.

His teammates know the work Pritchard puts in despite what can be a frustrating situation, which is why his night was so meaningful for them, too.

“Payton’s my guy, man. I really respect him a lot,” Brown said. “His game, his work ethic, how hard he works, everything, how he just comes in and is just ready. You see some guys not get the opportunity and their spirit is down. Payton has his days, but Payton’s going to be a good player for a long time in this league just because of his mentality. Great addition to our locker room and good guy to have around.”

When Brogdon returns, it’s likely playing time will be scarce for Pritchard again. But it speaks to the impressive depth the Celtics have developed that they have the trust to call on their fourth-string guard to be ready in a moment’s notice and contribute important minutes, which is extremely valuable throughout a long season that the Celtics hope lasts through June. It also speaks to Pritchard’s work ethic and maturity. His individual circumstances may not be ideal, but he’s not letting it affect him or the team.

He’s only staying ready for his next opportunity.

“You don’t want to take away from what we have going here and I’m not going to be a distraction at all,” Pritchard said. “So I’m mainly focused on getting better and keep winning, and when I get a chance I’m going out there and competing.”



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