On Payton Pritchard's Fearlessness and the 'Play of the Game' as Celtics' Seized 2-0 NBA Finals Lead

Jun 9, 2024; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Celtics guard Payton Pritchard (11) steals ball from Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) in the fourth quarter during game two of the 2024 NBA Finals at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 9, 2024; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Celtics guard Payton Pritchard (11) steals ball from Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) in the fourth quarter during game two of the 2024 NBA Finals at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports / David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
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The Dallas Mavericks were down just two possessions with three seconds to go in the third quarter after Kyrie Irving, typically heckled all night, made both free throws as Payton Pritchard checked into the game. Pritchard was yet to score in these NBA Finals. The Boston Celtics’ guard had a history throughout the season of quarter-ending buzzer-beaters from any sort of range. 

Pritchard turned on his jets and got to the Finals logo across half court as it banked home at the horn, and TD Garden’s roof came off from the emotions of the crowd. Mike Breen shouted at a loss of words for an all-time call.

He was making the winning plays to further solidify his incredible story for this team to keep Game 2 in safe hands as Pritchard usually does for Boston.

The Celtics defeated the Mavs 105-98 to take the steering wheel in the NBA Finals with a 2-0 lead, heading to Dallas undefeated on the road this postseason.

Boston played one of their worst games in this two-loss championship pursuit shooting just 25.6 percent from three. Doncic was spectacular playing banged up with a 30-point triple-double, Jayson Tatum was the main culprit in the rough shooting game for the Celtics. They were still able to escape in the clutch, where their habits have been the complete opposite of the team’s issues from the past to continue to show why Boston is a different team this year.

A primary face to that for the Celtics is Jrue Holiday. So far in these NBA Finals, one of the newest Celtics is showing resembling play to what he did on the biggest stage for the Milwaukee Bucks’ championship in 2021. Holiday is now averaging 19 points in the Finals with 9.5 rebounds, on 65/44/100 percent shooting splits while being Doncic’s main defender. In Game 2, the two-time All-Star had 26 points, 11 rebounds, three assists with a block and a steal, shooting 11-14 from the field.

As someone who has been a voice for him all season, Holiday had praise for Pritchard and the play he checked out for. 

“Well, first, I fouled Kyrie and put him on the free-throw line and I got my third foul, so Payton came in for me,” Holiday said. “I didn't want to foul him, but I'm kind of glad that I did. The energy that Payton brings, him just having the balls to take that shot. He's done it so many times this year. Where he's had the courage to take it and he's knocked it has been huge for us. So it was definitely a confidence boost and really just boosted us for the rest of that game.”

Celtics’ vocal leader Jaylen Brown kept guiding the team with 21 points and seven assists aside Tatum’s near triple-double: 18 points, 12 assists and nine assists despite the bad shooting.

Brown loved Pritchard’s confidence, saying Boston allowed him to check himself in knowing that is who he is.

“Man, that was incredible,” Brown said. “I heard he, like, checked himself in the game too. Like, he's been hitting those shots all season long. If anybody has been paying attention to it, he's made I don't know how many of those, at least three or four. So tonight he made it in the biggest of moments.”

Joe Mazzulla discussed the buzzer-beater from Prtichard.

“I think the play of the game can't go unnoticed, the humility of our team, is Payton's shot at the end of the quarter,” he said. “You see guys around the league pass up on that shot or fake like they want to take it, so that their numbers don't get messed up. He takes pride in taking that, and that's winning basketball.”

He knew his guard made the initiative himself.

“Yeah. He takes pride in that,” Mazzulla said, noting that was the plan for Prtichard to take that shot.

The Celtics will look to take a 3-0 lead over the Mavs in the NBA Finals on Wednesday night as the series shifts to Dallas. Boston is looking to remain unbeatable on the road, winning their last six against the Mavericks.

Their last loss in Dallas was when Kristaps Porzingis was a member of the team in the 2021-22 season, where he will be making his first return there since his tenure ended when he was dealt to the Washington Wizards that February.


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Rob Greene

ROB GREENE

@RobGreeneNBA