Then sixth player Malcolm Brogdon was ruled out of the game against the Pistons last Wednesday with a tight hamstring and Pritchard’s opportunity came. With Brogdon sidelined for the last four matches, Pritchard stepped in and provided a loud reminder of his abilities.
He averaged 7.5 points and 3.5 rebounds while playing 14.5 minutes per game during this stretch, and Boston won all four. With Pritchard on the court this season, the Celtics have outscored their opponents by 12.7 points per 100 possessions. To put that net rating in perspective, he’s about 6 points better than MVP candidate Jayson Tatum.
“You don’t want to take away what we have here and I’m not going to be a distraction at all,” Pritchard said, “so I’m mainly focused on getting better and continuing to win. When I get a chance, I’ll go out and compete.”
Pritchard has been a particularly impressive catalyst in recent victories over the Nuggets and Thunder. Against Denver on Friday night, he hit 5 of 6 shots and recorded 11 points and five rebounds. He was at the center of the game’s defining moment, too.
He grabbed a pair of offensive rebounds during the possession, of which Boston had four. When the Nuggets’ DeAndre Jordan finally came up with the ball, Pritchard slid in behind him, ripped it wide, and scored. The garden crowd was delighted. Nuggets coach Mike Malone was furious.
“No matter what situation he’s in when his name is called, I trust he’ll be ready to play,” Mazzola said. “I trust he will know the game plan. I trust he will have a great mentality.”
On Monday night, Mazzola could see his starters simply didn’t have enough juice as Oklahoma City began to extend their lead early in the third quarter. Putting Pritchard into the game after just three minutes, the 6ft 1in keeper changed the tone and tempo by pressing hard on the ball in the backcourt and slamming onto the glass for rebounds.
During one stretch at the end of the period, he drilled a deep three-pointer as the shot clock closed out before coming up with a steal near midcourt and rushing to throw the ball at the buzzer.
“Every time he gets his moment this year, he comes along and makes a huge impact for us,” said guard Marcus Smart. “And that’s up to him as a player, a professional and his personality. He doesn’t let the circumstances he’s in affect him and that’s all there is to it. Because on any given night, you never know, it might be your turn.”
Smart said he could see the inconsistency in Pritchard’s chances was wearing him down. Even if he’s down, Smart explained, the rest of the NBA is always watching him.
“So keep playing, whether your time is here or somewhere else,” Smart said. “But you don’t want to go out there smelly and not be professional because you’re upset about the conditions you’re in, because it’s going to hurt you in the long run. You just need to keep his mind constantly positive and in the right place, so when he’s got his time, like he’s been doing, he’s out.” out there and excel.”
The Celtics picked up Pritchard’s $4 million option for next season. President of Basketball Operations Brad Stevens may be tempted to pursue a trade involving Pritchard before the February deadline. But there will be inevitable injuries like the one that sidelined Brogdon last week, and right now, Pritchard is one of the best insurance policies in the NBA. If his strong play continues, it will be difficult for Mazzola to get him out of the rotation, regardless of the health of the others.
“I live for this,” Pritchard said. “Basketball, I love that stuff. So no matter what I stay fit and whatever I get, I’m going to go out there and give it my all.”
Brogdon (hamstring) questionable for Wednesday’s game against the Hawks. Smart (ankle) is bearable.