The Boston Celtics managed to turn their season around and finish second in the Eastern Conference despite a slow start to the year. Now, the Celtics patiently wait to see the outcome of the play-in game, so they can learn who their opponents will be in the first round of the playoffs.
Boston’s potential opponents are either the Brooklyn Nets or Cleveland Cavaliers who face off on April 12 in a winner-takes-all elimination game. The Nets defeated the Celtics 4-1 in the first round of the 2020-21 playoffs, which will likely serve as motivation to a team that finished the regular season with the league’s best defense.
President of Basketball Operations, Brad Stevens, has done an exceptional job at revamping the Celtics roster and putting them in a position to be contenders moving forward. And according to sophomore guard Payton Pritchard, this Celtics team is going to be a thorn in their opponent’s side for the foreseeable future.
“I think we’re really confident. We believe in ourselves and only have one goal in mind. Obviously, it starts with one playoff series at a time, but we’re ready,” Pritchard said in a recent press conference, “We found our rhythm, guys started playing really well. And we found our identity, so I think that for years to come, we should be a team that makes a championship push every time.”
The Celtics aren’t considered to be one of the league’s most prominent contenders this year, but following their stellar play since the turn of the calendar year, most people have them as a dark-horse candidate in the coming post-season.
Pritchard Seized His Opportunity
When the Celtics originally drafted Pritchard with the 26th pick of the 2020 NBA draft, it felt like a reach from Danny Ainge. Most analysts had Pritchard going mid-way through the second round, so to see Boston take a chance on him, despite having numerous guards in their rotation, was unexpected.
But, Pritchard quickly proved that he belonged in the NBA, and began hitting some big shots for the Celtics when given the opportunity. The rookie then followed up his impressive debut season by embarking on an impressive summer, even dropping 92 points in a Portland Pro-AM game.
Unfortunately, following the Celtics’ acquisition of Dennis Schroder in the off-season, Pritchard found his playing time-limited. And when the sophomore guard did get an opportunity, he suffered a facial injury, forcing him to wear a mask, which led to some poor performances.
However, following the February 10 trade deadline, where the Celtics moved Schroder to the Houston Rockets as part of the Daniel Theis deal, the sophomore guard had a clear path towards valuable rotation minutes.
“My job is to come in, be ready, knock down shots, play hard defense, make plays, be a winning player. For me, once that trade deadline happened, that was my mindset – just to come in and compete, and keep earning more trust from my coaches,” Pritchard has previously told the media.
Pritchard quickly became an integral piece to the Celtics bench unit, primarily due to his three-point shooter, but also because he fights on defense and is growing as an off-ball playmaker. The Oregon native finished his second regular season with averages of 6.2 points, 1.9 rebounds, and two assists on 41.2% three-point shooting, and 42.9% shooting from the field.
Pritchard Has Two More Years on Contract
Regardless of what happens in the post-season, Pritchard projects to remain on the Celtics roster moving forwards. The six-foot-one guard has another two years remaining on his rookie-scale deal at a team-friendly average of $2.6 million – per Spotrac.
It is worth noting that Pritchard’s final year is a team option, but if he continues to light it up from the bench, then there’s no reason why the Celtics wouldn’t take up that final year. Players that shoot over 40% from deep are a rare commodity in the NBA, especially ones that can also handle the rock and give 100% on the defensive side of the floor.
However, should the Celtics make moves to add another guard during the summer, then Pritchard may start to look elsewhere for regular playing time, but hopefully, the young guard has proven his worth to Ime Udoka and will remain in the team’s plans.
The Celtics will be back in action on Saturday, April 16 when they face the winner of the Cavalier vs. Nets play-in game, and hopefully Pritchard and the rest of the Celtics team can continue their incredible start to 2022.