Celtics’ Payton Pritchard brings ‘more dawg’ than the Bucks in antic-filled game

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BOSTON — Payton Pritchard took the gesture personally even though Patrick Beverley did not intend it for him.

Twice during the first half of the Boston Celtics’ 122-119 win over the Bucks on Wednesday night, Beverley punctuated buckets by unloading the “too small” gesture at Luke Kornet. Kornet didn’t appear to respond either time, but Pritchard, who scored 19 points, including 10 during a game-changing second-quarter run, said the antics motivated him.

“I feel like he’s trying to clown one of our teammates,” Pritchard said. “Definitely took it a little personal.”

Pritchard chirped at the Bucks after some of his buckets. His celebrations carried a little extra attitude. He said Beverley sparked him to bring additional energy.

“Bring more dawg to it,” Pritchard said. “I think that’s what he prides himself on. Just trying to bring more than him.”

Moments after Pritchard snatched a rebound away from Brook Lopez midway through the second quarter, Jayson Tatum raised his arms above his head and demanded more volume from the crowd. He wanted the fans to recognize Pritchard’s energy.

How could they not? After the Celtics took a small lead out of the first quarter, Pritchard controlled the early part of the second. Even with Tatum on the court, the Celtics ran their offense through Pritchard. He rewarded them with a powerful spurt. Guiding Boston on a 26-10 run, Pritchard recorded 13 points and three assists over a stretch of 7 minutes, 23 seconds spanning the first and second quarters. Going at iffy defenders like Pat Connaughton and Danilo Gallinari, Pritchard used his body to create space for a layup and broke free to splash home a long jumper. During one stretch, he scored or assisted on baskets during six straight possessions.

“I feel like we went to some of our octagon, which is a side pick-and-roll,” Pritchard said. “Used that a little bit. I feel like it was the energy, the pace we were playing with. The intensity. That’s kind of what we were able to exploit there and make a big run there.”

Pritchard jawed with the Bucks after some of his most impressive plays, relishing the competitive nature of the game.

“I feel like that was kind of a playoff game,” Pritchard said. “It had the atmosphere like it, the energy in the building.”

The game lost some of its shine when the Bucks announced Giannis Antetokounmpo would sit out with a sore hamstring, but both sides brought the intensity anyway. Beverley always seems to ramp up the passion when he’s on the court. Damian Lillard and Khris Middleton are gamers. Milwaukee has a few other veterans like Jae Crowder and Bobby Portis who love the emotions of competition. The Celtics embrace it, too. Pritchard can get overlooked on Boston’s loaded roster but won’t ever back away from a challenge. His work ethic carried him to the NBA. It allowed him to stay steady when he fell out of the rotation last season. This season, with a bigger opportunity as the Celtics’ primary backup point guard, he has been part of a consistent and effective bench unit. He has shown off a more complete game.

“Everybody always talks about his shooting, but I think this year in particular he’s been impacted by his rebounding, he’s been impacted by his defense, his pace, getting down the floor and getting us into our actions quick in the shot clock,” Joe Mazzulla said. “Getting into the paint and finding guys. He’s just becoming a really well-rounded player who knows he can have a positive impact on the game in many different ways, and it’s a huge asset for us.”

Pritchard does it all with a chip on his shoulder. Earlier this week, he said preseason doubts about Boston’s second unit fueled him, and he’s glad that the Celtics bench has been able to show the critics it can play. He has an edge to him, so it was no surprise when he wanted smoke with the Bucks, too.

Despite Pritchard’s big game off the bench, the Celtics could have made their night easier. Jaylen Brown eventually said goodnight to the Bucks with a pair of free throws and one last defensive stop on Lillard, but Boston allowed Milwaukee to cut a 104-83 fourth-quarter lead all the way down to two points. Portis and Lillard combined to outscore the entire Celtics team 25-21 during the fourth quarter. Mazzulla and the Boston players didn’t sound concerned that their offense dried up against a late zone defense from the Bucks, but Pritchard said they will look at their performance against the zone as a team.

“We’ll be all right,” Pritchard said. “Sometimes, it happens in college, too. I remember playing (where) a team plays man then they play zone, and it can slow the pace down. … I still feel like we got good shots. It’s just the pace slows down, we’re starting our offense at 12 or 14 seconds.”

The Celtics still survived. After the Bucks pulled within 110-107, Tatum responded by drawing a foul before following that up with a driving layup. Milwaukee later cut the margin to two points, but Brown and Tatum drilled six straight free throws to seal the win. Though the fourth quarter was rocky at times, Pritchard thought it showed progress.

“I think we’re handling our business at home, and I think that’s a big difference from last year to this year,” he said. “We’re just taking care of things and not letting little games slip away. Last year, I feel like this type of game could have slipped away at the end, but we regrouped and finished it.”

With the top seed in the Eastern Conference all but wrapped up, the Celtics haven’t had any motivation from the standings in weeks. It would be easy to coast in their situation, but they have done anything but take their foot off the gas while winning 18 of their last 20 games, including 13 by double digits. They haven’t needed an excuse to compete.

Pritchard never does, either.

“Payton’s been great, and I’m not surprised, to be honest,” Brown said. “Some guys just got a certain mentality they carry themselves with. Payton is somebody you don’t worry about. Even in the lowest of times, he’s a hard worker and his mindset is phenomenal in terms of a relentless, never-give-up, warrior-type mentality. So you put him out there, I’m not surprised at anything we’re seeing now. It’s just now the work is coming to fruition.”

(Photo: Winslow Townson / USA Today)

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