With three minutes and 12 seconds remaining in the third quarter on Friday, the Boston Celtics trailed the Sacramento Kings 84-78. At the 5:04 mark of the fourth quarter, they led the Kings 113-88. Do the math and that’s a 35-4 run over a little more than 10 game minutes.
That, ladies and gentleman, is a basketball avalanche.
Jayson Tatum, who finished with 30 points and continues to make his case as the early MVP leader, credited Payton Pritchard and Luke Kornet for changing the energy of a game that, in many ways, wasn’t going Boston’s way. They didn’t like the calls they were getting. The Kings, who came in as the only team in the league with a better offensive rating than the Celtics, put 40 points on them in the second quarter, the most Boston has given up in a single quarter this season.
But when Pritchard and Kornet, neither of whom is fully part of the regular rotation, entered the game for the first time at the 3:12 mark of the third quarter, things changed. Pritchard wound up hitting a pair of 3s. Kornet blocked a pair of shots. But it was more about the palpable energy lift they gave the Celtics that reflected in their combined plus-41 point differential.
“I give a lot of credit to Luke and Payton when they checked in,” Tatum said. “Those guys didn’t play the first half, they never truly know when they’re going to play. But true professionals always stay ready, and they gave us the boost of energy that we needed. Those guys came in and changed the momentum of the game.”
The Boston fans love Pritchard, in particular. He can heat up in a hurry. He might go a week or two without getting many minutes, but then boom, he’ll change a game like he did on Friday. Last Wednesday, Pritchard buried four 3-pointers in 24 minutes against the Hawks, then didn’t score a single point in seven combined minutes over the next two games before Friday night, when the two 3s that he hit felt like they were worth a lot more.
“It’s really hard to do, to just come off [the bench] and be a microwave [scorer] like that,” Jaylen Brown said of Pritchard. “I think that’s one of the hardest things to do in this league, but Payton, it seems almost as if he’s mastering it.”
The Celtics own the league’s best record at 15-4 and have won 11 of their past 12 games. Over that span, they have outscored their opponents by 120 points. This team is no joke, to state the obvious. They are the top offense in the league and though their defense doesn’t look as gaudy on the stat sheet at the moment, this is still arguably the most oppressive defensive unit in the league at maximum strength, which they won’t be at until Robert Williams returns.