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Tim Bontempspen.

Danny Ainge, president of the Boston Celtics, grew up in Eugene, Oregon, and after a remarkable four-year career at BYU, he moved on to a 14-year NBA career as a rock-hard, shot-putting goalie.

Decades later, A.J. fell in love with another Oregon boy while in the service. And although the new Peyton Pritchard did not attend Ainge’s alma mater, he had a four-year career at the University of Oregon and, like Ainge, an NBA-quality jump shot.

That’s what prompted Ainge to pick Pritchard as his 26th player in last November’s NBA Draft, a selection he and the Celtics likely hoped would be a small part of coach Brad Stevens’ rotation this season. Instead, Pritchard has become a key part of Boston’s hopes for another round in the playoffs.

Thursday night against the Raptors, Pritchard showed why. He scored 20 points in a 6 to 8 tie with a 3 point difference. The Celtics defeated the Toronto Raptors 120-106 on a night when the team’s two stars this season, Jason Tatum and Jaylen Brown, combined their shot at 8-for-27.

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“They attract so many guys that they have to work with others,” Pritchard said afterward. “So it’s up to us to clean up the floor and find holes for them.

Pritchard is a four-year varsity player with a skilled shooting hand and certainly fits the type of player capable of making an early impact in the league. However, the bar is high for a rookie who wants to join a team with championship aspirations like Boston and be part of the team rotation. For example, rookie Aaron Nesmith – ranked 14th in the 2020 Finals – has barely played.

Pritchard, on the other hand, is clearly the sixth man on the team now. He has played every game this season when healthy – and more than 10 minutes in every game except the January 22 game against the Philadelphia 76ers, when he suffered a strain to his MCL. Even with those missed games, he hit more triples this season than any player except Tatum and Brown for the Celtics, while his 46.9 percent across the arc is surpassed only by Desmond Bain Memphis (48.2 percent) among rookies who hit at least three triples per game and 10 among all players who hit as many per game this season.

And while he admitted that Pritchard shouldn’t be playing six-on-three per game, Stevens said he could see right away that the rookie has a chance to make an impact this season.

“Before the training camp started,” Stevens said, “the recruits arrived a few days after they were hired, and after a few tests they were able to work in small groups, and you could tell they were pretty advanced.

Error! Movie not specified.Pritchard scored 18 of his 20 points from across the arc. Brian Babineaux/Getty Images

Part of what made Pritchard so important was the lack of options around him on the bench at Boston. No one doubts the Celtics’ talent on the perimeter between Tatum, Brown, Kemba Walker and Marcus Smart (who is currently sidelined with a calf strain).

Behind that, however, the options are limited. Jeff Teague was brought in as the team’s first reserve guard, but after scoring 19 points in the Celtics’ first game of the season, he took 30% from the field (including a miserable 28% on 2-pointers) and was removed from the Stephens rotation, with Pritchard taking his place as the first guard off the bench.

Although Semi Ojeleye scored 24 points Thursday, the best score of his career, including his own 6-for-8 3-point performance, it is far from ordinary as he averaged less than 3 per game Thursday. Boston’s other regulars on the bench – Tristan Thompson, Grant Williams and Robert Williams – have different skills, but none of them can provide immediate offense.

There is probably no one on the team who can deliver an attack as quickly as Pritchard on Thursday – and all season long. And although he is a former Oregon playmaker who played for a Boston team with Walker, Tatum and Brown, Pritchard could fit in perfectly as an outfielder whose shots had to respect the opposing defense. He provided goal-scoring opportunities for the Celtics’ key players and was good enough on defense to hold his own.


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And in a game where Tatum and Brown missed 19 shots, that margin – and shots by Pritchard, Ojeyele and Walker, who hit 5 of 8 from 3-point range – allowed them to collect 19 assists.

Questions about Boston’s depth will continue to arise. While Pritchard has clearly established himself as the team’s premier defensive back on the bench and Boston’s quartet of great players-Daniel Theis, Thompson and both Williams-will play their roles, the team still lacks depth behind a trio of wingers in Tatum, Brown and Smarts.

With the $28 million commercial exception created by Gordon Hayward’s departure this season and his status as one of the few candidates to control first-round picks, Boston has the opportunity to add a player by next month’s deadline. And with the East looking wide open, such a decision could finally allow the Celtics to break through and return to the NBA Finals after reaching the Eastern Conference Finals in three of the last four seasons.

Nonetheless, Pritchard’s play helped allay some concerns about scores outside of Boston. Consequently, less than two months into his first season, Pritchard gave Ainge the impression of being biased by betting on another four-year starter from Oregon.

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