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Celtics’ Payton Pritchard sniffs around for an answer to his shooting woes

Payton Pritchard had been wearing a mask after breaking his nose in a preseason game last month.Carmen Mandato/Getty

ATLANTA — Celtics guard Payton Pritchard said that when he wore a mask during games to protect the nose that he broke last month, he might as well have been donning a football helmet. Sometimes the mask would be knocked off-center in the middle of a play, and even though the clear plastic protector did not cover Pritchard’s eyes, it still affected his vision, especially peripherally.

He wore the mask in every game since his nose was smashed during a preseason game against the Magic last month. But Saturday night, in the midst of a season-long slump, and after committing two turnovers and going scoreless in the first half against the Cavaliers, Pritchard decided he had had enough.

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He flung the mask aside and told the team’s medical staff he was fine with the risks.

“I’m just done wearing it,” Pritchard said. “It’s kind of annoying to wear. It takes away some of your vision. It’s just a lot different.

“Going forward, if I break my nose, I break my nose. It’s a little early [to stop using the mask], but it is what it is. I’m just done with it.”

Pritchard was hopeful that his newfound facial freedom could get him untracked, but the early returns haven’t been promising. He missed both of his shots in the second half of Saturday’s game against Cleveland, and then was 0 for 2 and held scoreless in Monday’s rematch, a 98-92 Celtics win.

Payton Pritchard looks for an opening in a preseason game against Toronto last month.Winslow Townson/Associated Press

“I don’t know if it has anything to do with the mask,” coach Ime Udoka said. “It could be that you’re missing shots and looking for something, as far as that, but [we need] him coming in and being who he is and hunting shots. We try to get him shots when he’s in.”

Pritchard, 23, emphasized that he is not using the mask as an excuse, but that does not change the fact that he viewed it as a hindrance. As a rookie last season he was something of a revelation. With the roster battered by injuries and COVID-19-related absences, Pritchard stepped in and seized a prominent role.

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He converted a game-winning buzzer-beater against the Heat and then poured in 23 points in a win over the Raptors. For the season, he played 19.2 minutes per game and averaged 7.7 points and 2.4 rebounds while shooting 44 percent from the field and 41.1 percent from beyond the 3-point line.

But this season has been a struggle. Pritchard broke his nose when he took an inadvertent shot to the face Oct. 13. He underwent surgery and was fitted for the mask in time for the season opener against the Knicks. He is still looking to regain his rhythm.

Pritchard is averaging 10.6 minutes, 1.8 points, and 1.7 rebounds per game. He has made just 23.5 percent of his shots overall and 26.1 percent of his 3-pointers.

“I’ve got to knock down my shots and let it flow, but I’m just focusing on helping the team win,” Pritchard said. “As a new team goes, you just figure out how to help them win, and that’s all I’m worried about right now. As far as my individual success, I’ll find ways to help.”

Payton Pritchard, seen here talking with coach Ime Udoka during a recent game, is averaging 10.6 minutes, 1.8 points, and 1.7 rebounds per game this season.Matthew J Lee/Globe staff

The additions of Dennis Schröder and Josh Richardson have crowded the Celtics’ backcourt, reducing the roles of players such as Pritchard and fellow second-year guard Aaron Nesmith.

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Udoka, who was mostly a backup during his career as a player, understands it can be challenging and frustrating when playing time is so inconsistent. So before Monday’s game in Cleveland, he pulled aside some of the younger bench players, including Pritchard, for a mild pep talk.

“I told them I’ve been there, so stay ready, stay prepared,” Udoka said. “Opportunity is going to come, so take advantage, whether you have three minutes or 10 or 20.”

Pritchard said it will not take him long to find his groove again. He’s not sure when he’ll get an extended chance, but he is sure that when he does, he will not have anything on his face.

“If I break my nose again, I break it,” he said. “I’m not letting that affect me anymore.”


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