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Payton Pritchard has stepped up his game during the Celtics’ surge, and it’s time for Derrick White to do the same

Payton Pritchard (right) scored 14 points vs. the Kings Friday.Randall Benton/Associated Press

SACRAMENTO – What’s evident is Payton Pritchard is going to get open 3-point shots, and the key to his success and the Celtics’ chances of advancing deep into the postseason is whether he can drain those open shots consistently.

Pritchard has always believed in his skills and ability to flourish – when given the opportunity. That hasn’t always been the case this season, but when the Celtics sent the erratic Dennis Schröder off to Houston, the opportunity suddenly opened.

In the month since the trade, Pritchard has become that reliable shooter the Celtics have sought the past few years.


In the 15 games since the trade, Pritchard has made 41 percent of his 3-point attempts, and he splashed all four Friday in a 126-97 win over the shorthanded Sacramento Kings at Golden1 Center.

The Celtics avoided what could have been a serious trap game with a mostly dominating performance. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown had 30-point performances, but Pritchard’s 14 points in 21 minutes and his plus-31 rating is an indication he can emerge as a viable third scoring option.

Pritchard doesn’t need to deliver this every night, but he has to routinely hit open shots because the Tatum-Brown duo are so imposing for defenses, which creates opportunities for others. Derrick White is also getting open shots, but his struggles are becoming a real concern.

He was 1 for 5 from the 3-point line Friday and is 15 of 67 (22.3 percent) since joining the Celtics. He snapped a streak of three games without a made three with a his fourth-quarter triple.

Pritchard and White are the keys to the Celtics offense, and their production will make the offense flow better and relieve some responsibility from Tatum and Brown.

With 11 games left, the Celtics’ two primary goals are to claim at least the fourth seed and home-court advantage and pump as much confidence in Pritchard and White as possible.


Well, make that White because Pritchard is not lacking in confidence. The second-year guard has always believed he could thrive with the required playing time, and he had a strong rookie season under Brad Stevens.

But the signing of Schröder, who was supposed to fill the role as second guard along with Marcus Smart and be a fourth-quarter closer, robbed Pritchard of his expected minutes. After a stretch of seven games with fewer than 10 minutes and one he did not play that was listed as a coach’s decision, Pritchard had logged double-digit minutes in 16 of his past 17 games.

“People want to look at stats and numbers, but at the beginning of the year, I’m playing sometimes at the very end of games and different minutes,” he said. “I just 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 to come in and compete and keep earning more trust from the coaching staff.”

One of the reasons he wasn’t playing was lack of production. He was 7 of 30 from the 3-point line in the first 18 games of the season. When he’s not hitting shots, Pritchard is much less productive because he’s on the floor to score and run the offense.

Yet, he said it was all a matter of more reps. There was nothing mechanically wrong.


“Nah, nah, my shot’s always been there,” he said. “Anybody in practice knows that a lot of times with people shooting it takes time to get the flow back of things.”

Coach Ime Udoka said he’s always maintained confidence in Pritchard and the reason the Celtics didn’t pursue a backup point guard in the buyout market following the Schröder trade was they already had one. Pritchard is taking advantage of his opportunity because that position was unsettled at best when the Celtics made a flurry of deals to clear roster space.

There were opportunities to sign capable, veteran point guards but Pritchard’s shotmaking has made that a fruitless mission. They already have that guy.

“He’s obviously one of our best shooters,” Udoka said. “The trick for him was to learn to play off the ball more and understand we have Marcus [Smart] there and Jayson and Jaylen, who can all handle the ball and create shots for him. Guys are really looking for him. You can feel it. You can see it. Just adds another layer to our team. The confidence part is always there for him. It’s just a matter of the opportunity.”

Confidence is critical for a shooter. White is trying to will the ball through the hoop, hoping it goes in instead of expecting it to go in and it’s obvious. He wants to make a positive impression on his new team, swish 3-pointers like Pritchard and the rest of his teammates – the Celtics hit 22 Friday – but he’s hesitant, passing up several open chances.


“Take the open ones and have no hesitation,” Udoka said of White. “He’s missed a few short and we were all really encouraging him and we know what he adds to the team. He’s getting great looks and you can see the whole bench stay with him and eventually he’ll get it going. He does so many different things and he’s one of our best facilitators and if his shot is not falling he can impact the game in other ways.”

Tatum and Brown are going to deliver nightly, but it’s important for Udoka to know they have help. Pritchard has responded to the increased role. White needs to be next.

Gary Washburn is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at gary.washburn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe.