As Kemba Walker’s slump grows increasingly concerning, rookie guard Peyton Pritchard continues to be a bright spot for the Boston Celtics. In his second game back from injury, the former Oregon standout headed a second-half charge against the Phoenix Suns on Sunday. While the Cs ultimately failed to capture the “W”, marking their fourth loss over their last six games, Pritchard helped claw his team back into contention as Boston closed the third quarter on a 9-0 run.
“He helped us get back in the game in the late third (quarter), hit some big shots,” head coach Brad Stevens said of Pritchard. “He gave us a chance. Payton was a good reason why we got back in. But it was (his) defense that got him jump started. I thought he was a totally different guy in the second (half).”
Pritchard’s second-half brilliance has become a somewhat regularity of late. All of the 23-year-old’s 12 points against Phoenix came in the final two quarters, knocking down four 3-pointers and notching five rebounds and one assist over the last 24 minutes of regulation.
While coach Stevens was complimentary of his young guard, he publically asked for more “assertiveness” from Pritchard following the Suns loss.
“That’s two games in a row now where he’s come back from the knee (injury) and was tentative in the first (half),” Stevens said. “We need him to play with that kind of assertiveness and aggressiveness when he checks into the game.”
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Stevens Doubles Down on Message to Pritchard
This marks the second game in a row that Stevens has been less than pleased with Pritchard’s initial play out the gates. In Friday’s victory over the Los Angeles Clippers, Pritchard’s first game back from a Grade 1 MCL sprain might we add, he came off the bench to notch eight points on 3-for-4 shooting in 19 minutes of play.
“To be honest, I thought he looked a little tentative,” Stevens said following the four-point win in Los Angeles. “I had to tell him to shoot. So the very next time he touched the ball he jacked one right in front of me. And he made it. So he’s a good listener. But I thought he looked timid in the first half and then I thought he was good in the second.”
Pritchard’s Record-Setting Pace
Prior to his injury, Pritchard had carved out a significant role as a top player of the bench for Stevens. Since returning to the lineup, he’s remained a steady contributor, averaging 10 ppg, while amassing a total of seven rebounds and two assists.
It’s somewhat understandable where Stevens is coming from in his analysis of Pritchard. On top of Kemba Walker’s aforementioned struggles, both Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart are nursing injuries, making Pritchard a key cog in kickstarting Boston’s offense.
As for the Oregon native, he remains on pace for a brilliant rookie campaign. In fact, some might say historic. While his shooting percentage has slightly dipped below 50% on the season (49.5), he’s shooting 44.2% from 3-point range and 90% from the free thrown line, putting him in striking distance to produce a 50/40/90 season. As Celtics.com’s Taylor Snow notes, should Pritchard accomplish said feat, he would be the first rookie in NBA history to do so.
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