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Payton Pritchard has put on a fourth-quarter clinic this week on the West Coast, as he has shot the lights out inside two different Northern California arenas over the past three nights.
On Wednesday night at Golden State, the second-year Celtics point guard logged 10 points – all in the final frame – while helping to hold off a late Warriors run before lifting Boston to a 110-88 win.
And on Friday night at Sacramento, he tallied nine of his 14 points during the fourth quarter, while helping to finish off the Kings, 126-97. He also shot a perfect 4-for-4 from deep at Golden 1 Center, marking the most long-range makes without a miss in his career.
In both games, Pritchard excelled on the offensive end while playing off the ball, a role of which he has seen more since the trade deadline and a role in which he has thrived.
Over the past 10 contests, Pritchard has averaged 8.3 points per game, while connecting on the second-most 3-pointers on the team during that span, trailing only Jayson Tatum. Not only has he made a lot of deep shots in those 10 games; he has also connected at an impressive rate of 46.3 percent, which is more than 10 percentage points higher than what he shot in his first 50 games (36.0 percent).
“He's obviously one of our best shooters,” head coach Ime Udoka pointed out after Friday night’s game. “The trick for him was to learn to play off the ball more and understand that we have Marcus (Smart), Derek (White), Jayson (Tatum), Jaylen (Brown) that can all handle and create shots for him. At times, he's a great screener and popper and he mixes it up and we bring some smaller matchups into it. So he's done a great job of not just handling it but playing off the ball. And then, obviously, like I said, him being one of our best shooters, guys are really looking for him. You can feel it, you can see it, they're looking for him in transition. So just adds another layer to our team.”
Transitioning into more of an off-ball role isn’t entirely foreign to Pritchard, even though he’s been primarily used as a ball handler dating back to his high school days. He’s comfortable playing in such a role, especially when Brown and Tatum are out on the floor demanding so much attention.
“In college, I played with other good players, so I learned to play off the ball with them,” said Pritchard, who also dished out a game-high-tying eight assists Friday night. “I definitely learned it a little bit more in the league because you’re playing with Jayson and Jaylen, and they’re superstars, so I’m trying to find ways to help them out.”
Tatum says that Pritchard helps out immensely whenever he’s on the court because he’s such a reliable shooter. Defenses also have to respect Pritchard's range, which then opens up the floor for Tatum and the rest of the guys.
“It’s big having a guy that can space the floor and knock down those shots,” said Tatum, who scored a game-high 32 points against the Kings. “And he just makes us more dynamic, and it builds confidence.”
Confidence is something that Pritchard never runs out of, no matter what role he’s asked to play.
“At the end of the day, I’m a basketball player,” he said. “So you could put me anywhere on the court and I’m gonna try to make something happen.”
Pritchard’s been making a lot happen of late, especially late in games when the Celtics are trying to space the floor. He’s making the most out of his opportunities, as he’s always done, and he seems to be hitting his stride at the most important time of the season.