Marcus Smart arrived at TD Garden Monday night wearing a dark green T-shirt with “Energy About to Transform” written across his chest. As he walked past a crowd of cameras, the veteran Celtics guard He pointed my index finger at the letterwho was famously drafted by teammate Jaylen Brown last season.
It was as if Smart knew exactly what was about to unfold in his team’s game with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
What followed was a stagnant start that turned into an electric finish, as they overturned a 15-point deficit in the third quarter into a 126-122 victory.
For the first 35 minutes, this looked like the kind of game that wouldn’t go Boston’s way. His shots didn’t fall, his defense was lackluster, and there was a general lack of rhythm.
But in the final 13 minutes the C’s were great, outscoring OKC 42-26 while forcing nine turnovers en route to their seventh straight win.
For what led to the power shift, Smart gave all the credit to Payton Pritchard and Derek White. Their backcourt teammates combined to bench their 26 points and completely changed the course of the game with their tenacity that started late in the third quarter.
“The first unit was a little slow,” Smart admitted after the game, while proudly donning his prophetic jersey in a tell-you-so style. “We tried, but the guys couldn’t find it. And these two guys walked in and gave us the shake we needed. So the energy definitely shifted with those two guys getting into the game.”
Pritchard began to turn the tide with a slam dunk to close frame three. In the last 45 seconds, he managed to make a 32-foot 3-pointer, stop a steal, and then deliver buzzer beating layup to cut the deficit by 12 points single-handedly to seven.
Heading into the final frame, White felt inspired by Pritchard’s energy and wanted to add to it.
“Every time he plays with me, I feel like he changes the energy of the game,” said White, who led all scorers with 16 points. “So I just try to follow his lead.”
And so he did. White went on to score nine points in the fourth quarter, including five critical points in the last 62 seconds. He never missed a shot in the entire frame, as he also stole two of his four steals.
Seeing two second-unit players make such an impact had an infectious effect on some of the others, like Smart and Jason Tatum who blasted down the stretch, each scoring 10 on 37 Celtics fourth-quarter points.
“It gives you the energy that you need,” Smart said of Pritchard and White’s efforts, “because when you see these guys and you’re happy for them, you’re suddenly full of adrenaline, and then all of a sudden you get that second wind and you’re like, ‘You know what? I’ll keep pushing, I’ll keep pushing. Then the mud starts to loosen up a little bit, and then you get your foot out of the mud, and then you get your other foot in, and now you’re rolling. So when these two people came along, that’s exactly what I did. It allowed us to get one foot out of the mud and get our other foot out, too.”
Essentially, Pritchard and White embodied Brown’s famous phrase of momentum change.
“They changed the whole game, the whole trajectory,” said Brown himself, who scored 26 points, six rebounds, six assists and two steals. “In a game like this, when we were looking for a spark, Payton and Derek did a great job of bringing that to us.”