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Celtics rookie Payton Pritchard is already showing good signs

Through three games, Payton Pritchard is averaging 20.3 minutes and 7.7 points.Darron Cummings/Associated Press

Celtics co-owner Wyc Grousbeck said recently that as last month’s NBA draft reached the latter part of the first round and one of the team’s targets remained available, president of basketball operations Danny Ainge showed a level of draft-night excitement that Grousbeck had not seen since 2006, when the Celtics traded up to take Rajon Rondo 21st overall.

This time, Ainge’s enthusiasm was centered on Oregon point guard Payton Pritchard, who was ultimately selected with the 26th pick. The season remains in its infancy, but Pritchard has already shown glimpses of what the fuss was about.

He has already vaulted past guards Carsen Edwards and Tremont Waters from last season’s draft class, as well as wing Aaron Nesmith, who was selected 12 spots ahead of Pritchard this year. Pritchard is showing signs that he could be a key part of the rotation, particularly while Kemba Walker remains out with left knee soreness.

“I feel like I’m getting more comfortable out there,” Pritchard said Monday. “Getting into more of a rhythm. But hopefully I can just continue that and help my team where I can and create a punch off the bench and stuff like that.”


Through three games, Pritchard is averaging 20.3 minutes, 7.7 points, 1.7 steals, and 1 assist, shooting 9 of 14 (64.3 percent) from the field overall and 5 of 7 (71.4 percent) from the 3-point line. On Sunday night, he was 5 for 5 overall and 3 for 3 on 3-pointers, scoring 13 points in the 108-107 loss to the Pacers.

Pritchard understands those shooting numbers will regress, and he is ready for the mercurial nature of a rookie season. But for now he is pleased to be a contributor on a team with dreams of winning the Eastern Conference.

“Honestly, just going into it knowing there’s going to be ups and downs this year,” Pritchard said. “I’m mentally prepared for that. It’s part of the process. I went through it in high school, started as a freshman, and then I did it again in college, same thing.


“Sometimes you go through these ups and downs as you’re learning how to contribute on a new team and find your way. So I’m kind of mentally prepared for that, and it’s part of the process.”

Pritchard was the first senior selected last month, so even though he is a rookie, he has more basketball experience than most others in his draft class, and he thinks that gives him an edge.

“I think throughout college it wasn’t like I stayed the same,” he said. “I got better each and every year, and I want to continue to do that now in the pros.”

Smart cleared to play

Guard Marcus Smart, who injured his right shoulder in the final minutes of Sunday’s loss, said that X-rays were negative and he has been cleared to play against the Pacers Tuesday night.

With 2:20 left in the fourth quarter, Smart tried to draw a charge on Pacers guard Malcolm Brogdon. Smart fell to the floor, but there was no call. He stood up and immediately signaled to the bench before falling back down.

Smart left the game but did return for the final minute. He said Monday that he has been dealing with some shoulder pain, and that Sunday’s fall aggravated it.


“It just got a little irritated,” Smart said. “Everything’s fine.”

Smart injured the same shoulder during a collision with Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo during the NBA’s Orlando restart in July.

Work to be done

The Celtics are allowing 19.3 fast-break points per game, ranking 27th in the NBA. The Pacers had 23 fast-break points Sunday, but coach Brad Stevens believes he is seeing improvement.

“We started so bad transition defense-wise in the Brooklyn preseason game, and in the Milwaukee game at home, that we had nowhere to go but up,” Stevens said. “If you’re asking if it’s better — it’s way better. Is it good enough? No.

“That said, some of our issues [Sunday], there were only a couple of issues off made field goals or field goal attempts. It was mostly off turnovers, or things we need to clean up on offense.

“It’s hard to guard a turnover. That’s when people get run out, that’s when people get opportunities.”

A foul footnote

The NBA’s Last Two Minute report stated that Jayson Tatum should have been whistled for an offensive foul for kicking his leg out into Brogdon prior to taking the potential game-winning shot Sunday night.

Adam Himmelsbach can be reached at adam.himmelsbach@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @adamhimmelsbach.