Provoked by Patrick Beverly, Payton Pritchard shows he has that dawg in him

Provoked by Patrick Beverly, Payton Pritchard shows he has that dawg in him

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A year ago today, Payton Pritchard was completely out of the Celtics’ rotation. He had lobbied for a trade prior to the All-Star break, desperate to get to a team where he’d see the court, but the Celtics decided to hold onto him, continuing to proclaim their long-term belief in his work ethic and play.

The rest is history.

One year later, Pritchard is a star in his role. He has the third-highest net rating in the league at +12.9, in a career-high 21.1 minutes per game.

He’s scored in double figures in six of his last seven performances — including a 19-point, 6-rebound effort in a 122-119 win over the Bucks on Thursday night. In March, he’s shooting 41.9% from downtown — and after a cold spell to start to the season, he’s up to 38.3% from three on the year.

Boston Celtics vs Milwaukee Bucks

Photo by Matt Stone/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald via Getty Images

And yet, stats can’t completely capture his impact on the Celtics’ second unit, nor do they tell the story of his growth over the last few years. He’s been the primary creator and facilitator of a Celtics’ bench that has consistently ranked among the best in the league, and has made a habit of securing timely offensive rebounds over guys with a significantly height advantage.

“[He’s] just finding ways to impact the game,” Joe Mazzulla said after the Bucks win, the Celtics’ seventh in a row. “Everybody always talked about his shooting, but this year in particular, he’s been impacted by his rebounding, he’s been impacted by his defense, his pace, getting down the floor and getting us into our actions quick in the shot clock. He’s just becoming a well-rounded player who knows he can make a positive impact in many different ways, and it’s a huge asset for us.”

The win over Milwaukee was his third excellent game in a row. On Monday, he exploded for 23 points and 7 assists against the Pistons. The day prior, he dished out a career-high 13 assists in a victory over the Wizards.

But this one felt a little different. Maybe that’s because the match-up had a playoff-like atmosphere, as Pritchard said after the game. Or maybe it’s because the game included one of the most animated stretches of Pritchard’s season, which came after the Bucks’ Patrick Beverly hit Luke Kornet with the ‘too little’ gesture.

“It kind of lit a little fire in me,” Pritchard said. “He was trying to clown one of my teammates – definitely took it a little personal.” In response, Pritchard scored 10 points, grabbed 4 rebounds, and dished 3 assists in the period.

And perhaps most notably, Pritchard snatched a rebound straight from from the hands of Brook Lopez, a moment he later described as “just a winning play,” while pointing out the 12-inch height disparity between them.

Pritchard’s intention was “to bring more energy, more dawg to it,” he told reporters postgame, via CLNS Media. “That’s what he [Beverly] prides himself on, so trying to bring more than him.”

The energy was contagious. Bucks coach Doc Rivers said after the game he generally liked his team’s play in the first half, but that then, “Pritchard happened.”

Jaylen Brown, who strung together his 13th consecutive 20+ point night, reflected on Pritchard’s growth postgame. He has not been surprised to see the former Oregon guard have the impact he’s had this season.

“Payton’s been great, and I’m not surprised, to be honest,” Brown said. “Some guys just got a certain mentality they carry themselves with. Payton is somebody you don’t worry about. Even in the lowest of times, he’s a hard worker and his mindset is phenomenal in terms of a relentless, never-give-up, warrior-type mentality. So you put him out there, I’m not surprised at anything we’re seeing now. It’s just now the work is coming to fruition.”

Derrick White echoed that sentiment to NBC Sports Boston: “Payton got the heart of a lion,” White said. “He don’t back down from anybody.”

The Celtics re-signed Payton Pritchard to a four-year, $30 million contact extension in October. At the time, he was coming off a season filled with blowout minutes and DNPs, his potential as an NBA player still uncertain.

Now, Joe Mazzulla isn’t even sure he has a ceiling.

“He’s a pretty complete player,” Mazzulla said. “I trust his defense – he can defend at a high level. He can rebound defensively and offensively, he can push the pace, and shoot. He just continues to get better and better all the time, and that’s just the player that he is.”

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