Payton Pritchard was ‘hero’ for Boston Celtics in crucial opportunity against Nets during Game 2 comeback win

BOSTON — Game 2 was full of unlikely heroes on both sides over the first three quarters as the Celtics and Nets stars struggled to get any kind of rhythm going. Grant Williams was a big one in the first half scoring 14 points. One more emerged in the fourth quarter on Wednesday night.

“Grant and Payton, they were our heroes tonight,” Jaylen Brown said postgame.

After waiting his turn for much of the season, Payton Pritchard got a chance to shine late in Boston’s comeback win over Brooklyn.

The reserve guard scored eight of his ten points in the final frame, hitting a number of key buckets to help fuel a Boston 21-4 run and send a Nets team into a 0-2 series hole.

Pritchard had been snake bitten during much of the early part of the season for Boston, thanks to a crowded guard rotation along with a broken nose that impact his shooting. He found himself losing minutes to Dennis Schroder on most nights and failing to recreate the consistent 3-point shooting through January that helped him stand out during his rookie season.

Brad Stevens elected to open the door for more Pritchard minutes on trade deadline though by dealing away Dennis Schroder along with Enes Freedom and Bruno Fernando to the Houston Rockets for Daniel Theis.

The end result was Pritchard getting a chance in the regular season starting in February, an opportunity he used to claim his role in Boston’s playoff rotation with 9.6 points per game and 47.3 percent shooting from 3-point range after the All-Star break.

Pritchard’s size makes him a defensive question mark but his fight and discipline on that end of the floor made stride as well in the past few months, enough to give Ime Udoka faith to play him against an offensive juggernaut like Brooklyn.

With Marcus Smart struggling with his jump shot after suffering a first half hand injury, Pritchard got his chance in the fourth quarter of a tight affair as Ime Udoka put some of his best 3-point shooters on the floor in Pritchard and Grant Williams around Boston’s stars.

“The spacing was different,” Udoka said. “We like, obviously, our big lineups and didn’t feel like we were hurting them on the offensive glass and had some struggles defensively with the bigs, especially on Dragic tonight, so decided to go small and we’re obviously confident in Derrick and Payton and those guys, and Payton had a hot hand, had it going, but they guard him differently. The spacing, him being able to handle and be a shot maker as well as setting screens, so that worked well for us, we went with it and then obviously brought him back in, kind of offense-defense subbing with him and Theis. And our versatility showed tonight and was welcome.”

Pritchard took advantage, scoring eight of his 10 points in the final frame, to help fuel a 21-4 run that helped Boston run away with the win. The Oregon product went 4-of-5 from the field but also chipped in on other parts of the floor, grabbing a team-high three rebounds in the period while also dishing out an assist. He was a plus-11 in the period over eight minutes, going to surprise 4-of-4 from inside the arc.

Perhaps more importantly for the Celtics, Pritchard looming as a shooting threat on the floor helped open up the court for Brown and Jayson Tatum in the fourth quarter. That duo combined for 17 fourth quarter points after slow starts, helping the Celtics break up off a sluggish offensive first half and pull away for a 29-17 edge in the final frame.

“I think when you come off the bench in the role, I mean, it can change game to game, so you got to be ready for what you get,” Pritchard said before Game 2. “And it’s not an easy job but whatever you get out there, you gotta go out, play hard defense, knock down your shots, make plays, and what you get you get. So just keep that mindset. I mean, I’d rather be in this position than not playing, so you got to make the most of it.”

Pritchard lived up to those words, matching Kyrie Irving’s scoring line (10 points) despite playing 15 minutes fewer off the bench. He was just one part of a comeback but he looks like one part of the supporting cast that will be a reliable bench weapon for Boston for years to come.

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