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Payton Pritchard was waiting for his opportunity. When it arrived, he seized the moment.

Payton Pritchard nabbed two steals against the Thunder, with this one leading to a buzzer-beating layup at the end of the third quarter.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Payton Pritchard would prefer that games in which he plays are not followed by questions about those in which he did not. But the third-year Celtics guard is in an unusual situation.

After being a key piece during the NBA Finals run last season, Pritchard mostly vanished from the rotation at the start of this season. Interim coach Joe Mazzulla insisted it was simply because of Boston’s depth and not an indictment of Pritchard.

But that probably didn’t make it much easier for Pritchard to stomach. He played a total of 16 minutes over the first 10 games, left with no choice but to sit and wait.


Then sixth man Malcolm Brogdon was ruled out of the game against the Pistons last Wednesday because of hamstring tightness and Pritchard’s opportunity arrived. With Brogdon sidelined for the last four games, Pritchard has stepped in and provided a loud reminder of his capabilities.

He is averaging 7.5 points and 3.5 rebounds while playing 14.5 minutes per game during this stretch, and Boston has won all four. With Pritchard on the court this season, the Celtics have outscored opponents by 12.7 points per 100 possessions. To put that net rating in perspective, it is nearly 6 points better than MVP candidate Jayson Tatum’s.

“You don’t want to take away from what we have going here and I’m not going to be a distraction at all,” Pritchard said, “so I’m mainly focused on getting better and to keep winning. And when I get a chance, I’m going out there and competing.”

Pritchard was a particularly impactful catalyst in recent wins over the Nuggets and Thunder. Against Denver on Friday night, he made 5 of 6 shots and tallied 11 points and five rebounds. He was at the heart of the game-defining moment, too.

He grabbed a pair of offensive rebounds during a possession in which Boston had four of them. When Nuggets center DeAndre Jordan finally came up with the ball, Pritchard slithered behind him, ripped it away, and scored. The Garden crowd was delighted; Nuggets coach Mike Malone was furious.


“No matter what situation he’s in when his name gets called, I trust he’s going to be ready to play,” Mazzulla said. “I trust he’s going to know the game plan. I trust he’s going to have a great mind-set.”

On Monday night, Mazzulla could see his starters simply didn’t have enough juice as Oklahoma City began extending its lead early in the third quarter. He put Pritchard into the game after just three minutes, and the 6-foot-1-inch guard shifted the tone and tempo by applying fierce ball pressure in the backcourt and storming to the glass for rebounds.

During one stretch at the end of the period, he drilled a deep 3-pointer with the shot clock winding down before coming up with a steal near midcourt and hurrying in for a layup at the buzzer.

“Every single time he has gotten his moment this year, he’s come in and made a big impact for us,” guard Marcus Smart said. “And that right there goes to him as a player, as a professional, and his character. He doesn’t let the circumstances that he’s in affect him and that’s what it’s all about. Because on any given night, you never know, it might be your turn.”


Smart said he can see that the inconsistency of Pritchard’s opportunities has worn on him. Smart has explained that even if he is frustrated, the rest of the NBA is always watching.

“So just keep playing, whether your time is here or somewhere else,” Smart said. “But you don’t want to go out there and stink it up and not be professional because you’re upset about the circumstance you’re in, because it’s going to hurt you in the long run. Just constantly keeping his mind positive and in the right place so when he does get his time, like he’s been doing, coming out there and exceling.”

The Celtics have picked up Pritchard’s $4 million option for next season. President of basketball operations Brad Stevens could be tempted to pursue a trade involving Pritchard before the February deadline. But there will inevitably be injuries such as the one that has sidelined Brogdon for the past week, and for now, Pritchard is one of the NBA’s best insurance policies. If his strong play continues, it will be tough for Mazzulla to keep him out of the rotation, regardless of others’ health.

“I live this,” Pritchard said. “Basketball, I love this stuff. So no matter what I’m going to stay ready and whatever I get I’m going to go out there and give it my all.”


Brogdon (hamstring) is questionable for Wednesday’s game against the Hawks. Smart (ankle) is probable.

Adam Himmelsbach can be reached at Follow him @adamhimmelsbach.