It’ll take more than Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and the rest of the starting five for the Boston Celtics to make their 2023-24 NBA Playoff bid a success, meaning a dark horse — or dark horses — will need to rise to the challenge.

The Celtics await the winner of the No. 8 seed from the Play-In Tournament to match up in the first round, starting Sunday afternoon. And while the team did go a combined 7-1 in the regular season when facing Philadelphia and Miami, records mean nothing.

It doesn’t matter that Boston went 64-18, finished as the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference or limited its longest losing streak to two games. Everyone enters the postseason with an equally clean slate, opening the door for a handful of Celtics non-starters. Since depth was especially critical for the team’s identity and versatility, its importance will only ascend under the playoff spotlight — for yet another year.

Therefore, the same supporting cast that allowed Kristaps Porzingis to miss 25 games managing injuries, will need to find ways to contribute to the 16 wins needed for the Celtics to raise Banner 18. Here are four primary candidates who did exactly that throughout the regular season:

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Payton Pritchard
The biggest beneficiary of the Marcus Smart and Malcolm Brogdon offseason departures, Pritchard handled the underlying pressures of living up to a four-year, $30 million contract signed before the preseason.

Since the undersized guard rarely played in 2022-23, there were reasons to doubt the organization’s choice to hand Pritchard a payday blindly, however, the 26-year-old kept the naysayers at bay.

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Pritchard played the exact role the Celtics needed off their bench, and efficiently, averaging a career-high 9.6 points on 46.8% shooting with a team-leading 4.6 assist-to-turnover ratio. But the most impressive part of Pritchard’s fourth year with Boston was logging 82 appearances — tied for the second-most games played of any player in the NBA this season.

“I already knew I could do this on a nightly basis,” Pritchard said after scoring a career-best 38 points in the regular season finale, per CLNS Media. “But when you have a team with as much talent as we have, you have to do other things to help winning. … Ultimately I’m here to win a championship and whatever that’s asked of me, I’ll do that.”

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Xavier Tillman
When the Celtics explored their limited list of options at the Feb. 8 trade deadline, one particular reason led the organization to Tillman, formerly of the Grizzlies: frontcourt defense.

Tillman, 25, while in Memphis, was viewed as an attractive trade candidate for several reasons like size (6-foot-8, 245-pounds), mobility, and defensive engagement. Plus — the cherry on top — he’s in the final year of his rookie contract, which obviously helped Boston’s salary cap cause.

In a split 54-game run with the Grizzlies and Celtics, Tillman averaged 5.3 points, 3.9 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 0.9 blocks, all while playing only 18 minutes per game. Tillman showed flashes off the bench when plugged in by Boston head coach Joe Mazzulla, serving as the team’s defensive X-factor while playing 15:06 minutes on March 1 against the Mavericks.

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Tillman has shown he can challenge elite scoring threats, making it more difficult for opponents to score inside the paint in a limited sample size.

To keep Al Horford’s legs fresh, Tillman could be Mazzulla’s guy at random, but impactful, scattered minutes throughout the playoffs.

Sam Hauser
There wasn’t another team in the NBA that averaged more 3-point attempts (16.5) than the Celtics, which played a factor in the team’s league-best 122.2 offensive rating. So… considering outside shooting is critical, Hauser should be prepared for some vital catch-and-shoot opportunities.

Hauser finished second for the team lead in 3-point percentage (42.4%) while averaging a career-best nine points, logging his most productive season with the Celtics. The 26-year-old played 22 minutes a night, most notably flirting with Klay Thompson’s NBA record (14) by draining 10 against the Wizards on March 17 — finishing with a career-high 30 points.

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You can never have enough outside shooting weaponry. So on nights when Boston struggles to find the net from beyond the arc, Hauser could sport a green heroes cap and re-stabilize the offense in just a few possessions.

With Pritchard’s ball movement as the reserve unit floor general, the chances will be awaiting Hauser’s much-needed hot hand.

Neemias Queta
When the Celtics took a flyer on Queta and signed him to a two-way contract in the offseason, not much was known, but the 24-year-old has remained patient and earned respect in Boston.

“I just like seeing Neemy be physical,” Mazzulla said of Queta in January, per Jordan Daly of NBC Sports Boston. “The presence that he’s playing with on the floor — he’s one of those kids, he doesn’t understand how good he can be.”

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Queta’s potential — averaging 5.5 points and 4.4 rebounds in 28 games — earned last season’s G League MVP a professional contract along with the 15th spot in Boston’s roster. His bid for a contract conversion became its most noticeable when backup center Luke Kornet went down with a hamstring injury in December and Queta was inserted into the second unit rotation.

The Celtics will need all the frontcourt depth they can get, and Queta, motivated following a G League Finals loss with the Maine Celtics, has the youngest legs of any center on Boston’s roster.

Featured image via Troy Wayrynen/USA TODAY Sports Images