Celtics’ Danny Ainge Gives Surprising Update on Payton Pritchard

Payton Pritchard, left, Boston Celtics

Getty Payton Pritchard, Boston Celtics

There is some good news for the Celtics, even as they wobble out West with a depleted point-guard rotation: Rookie Payton Pritchard, who has been a surprisingly useful sixth man off the bench, is close to returning and should be back in the lineup, perhaps as soon as Friday when Boston takes on the Clippers in Los Angeles.

In fact, Pritchard, who has been out since January 24 with a Grade 1 MCL sprain in his right knee, was close to playing on Wednesday against the Kings, according to team president Danny Ainge.

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Speaking on the Toucher and Rich show on 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston, Ainge gave a Pritchard update:

He’s very close. He was close to playing last night. Payton, he is a tough kid. Our biggest fear with him is coming back too soon. Some guys are trying to push to get back out there and get back and maybe are a little nervous about it but Payton is, his history, high school and college is wanting to play through everything. He has a sore a knee and it is not 100% healed. I am expecting at some point on this trip he will be ready to play.

Payton Pritchard Has Helped Celtics Immediately

Pritchard was selected with the 26th pick in the 2020 NBA draft out of Oregon, where he averaged 20.5 points and 5.5 assists as a senior last season. He has been impressive for both his hustle and his polish in his rookie season. At 23, he is a little more than a month older than Celtics star Jayson Tatum.

Pritchard has averaged 7.7 points and 2.6 assists this season, 48.8% shooting and 42.5% 3-point shooting this year. He has been playing 20.9 minutes per game.

After suffering his knee injury, Pritchard said he had never missed time because of an injury in high school or college.

Ahead of last year’s draft, Celtics coach Brad Stevens pushed for Boston to draft Pritchard, and he has not been reluctant to use him. Pritchard averaged 6.6 minutes per game in the fourth quarter, which ranks ninth among rookies.

Oregon coach Dana Altman, who has had a long relationship with Stevens, told Pritchard before the draft that Stevens planned to push Boston to take him.

“They really want you,” Altman told Pritchard. “I talked to Brad Stevens yesterday for a long time. He really wants you.”

Celtics Struggling With Point Guard Injuries

After an 8-3 start, the Celtics are mired in a 3-6 stretch, hampered by injuries and COVID-19 issues. While they missed Tatum for five games as he recovered from a COVID-19 infection, the absence of Pritchard, the minutes limit on point guard Kemba Walker (who is struggling as he returns from a knee injury) and a subsequent injury to Marcus Smart has hammered the Celtics at the point guard spot.

Jeff Teague has been the Celtics’ only healthy point guard throughout the last three weeks, but at 32.1% shooting from the field, he has struggled badly.

Smart is expected to miss most of February. Walker did not play on Wednesday against Sacramento because it was the second game of a back-to-back. When healthy, he has also struggled, shooting 36.6% from the field and 30.0% from the 3-point line.

The Celtics split their first two games of their current five-game road trip, beating Golden State on Tuesday before Wednesday’s loss. They’re faced with three very difficult games to close their Western Conference swing, against the Clippers, Suns and Jazz, teams with a combined 44-20 record.