The Boston Celtics are a league-best 15-4, and what might be the most fun aspect of this hot start is the fact that you just never know which player is going to spark the team to a win on any given night.
Yes, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are carrying the team at All-Star levels, but nearly all 15 players on the roster have contributed in a big way to victories this season. Friday night was Payton Pritchard’s and Luke Kornet’s turn.
Boston led by 16 points during the first half before Sacramento stormed back to build a six-point lead during the third quarter. Tatum, Brown and Marcus Smart were all saddled with four fouls at that time, and so the Celtics were forced to dip deep into their bench.
Enter Pritchard and Kornet, at the 3:12 mark of the period.
Out of nowhere, Joe Mazzulla called their name after neither had played a second of the game to that point and after Pritchard had totaled only seven minutes over the previous two games, while Kornet had totaled just six. That surprising move proved to change the tenor of the game.
Immediately upon their entrance to the game, an energy began to brew throughout the crowd after the building had previously fallen quiet. It took less than a minute before Pritchard scored two points from the free-throw line and then followed them up with a 3-pointer to give the C’s an 87-84 lead while sending the crowd onto its feet.
Kornet would soon get into the mix by grabbing a rebound and throwing down an alley-oop dunk from Tatum, all within a 13-second span, to boost the TD Garden energy to a whole new level.
That dunk gave Boston an 89-84 lead, and it just kept building from that moment on. It would continue to run away from Sacramento by stringing together a 19-0 run before eventually pulling ahead by as many as 27 points. They breezed their way to a 122-104 win during the fourth quarter.
The impact of Pritchard and Kornet was noted by everyone in the arena, including their coach and teammates. Mazzulla’s first comments after the game were complimentary of the two reserves for their level of preparation.
“We’ve talked about it since Day 1: we’ve got a lot of ways we can go,” he said. “Credit to both Payton and Luke for what they do on a daily basis to stay ready, and credit to our basketball team for accepting that.”
Both Mazzulla and Brown noted the shift in energy once Pritchard and Kornet checked into the game.
“I think Payton is a fan favorite,” said Brown, “so when he got in the game, we definitely felt that energy. And that’s all we needed.”
Mazzulla commented of the tangible boost of energy, “Our fans have been great this year. It helps us go on runs and it helps us win games. So that was a blessing, and cool to be a part of –watching our team respond and play well, because of what the Garden had done.”
More so, what Pritchard and Kornet had done to the crowd. They checked in and immediately woke the arena up. In turn, that woke the Celtics up, and that’s why they were able to take down a red-hot Sacramento team on a night when they weren’t necessarily at their best.