BOSTON - Avery Bradley's name was not exactly at the front of the list of players expected to step up their game in the absence of an injured Ray Allen. But that didn't stop him from playing the best offensive game of his career, as he scored a career-high 23 to lead the Boston Celtics past the Washington Wizards, 88-76, on Sunday at TD Garden.
"One of the things I've said consistently all year is that he can shoot the ball and he was making me a liar for most of the year. It was great to see him go in," said Celtics head coach Doc Rivers about his second-year reserve. "I thought there was a point it was clearly confidence because you see him in practice and he makes them, then he gets in the game and he just needed one to fall and that's the other thing we kept saying, so that was good."
Bradley's red-hot start came as a complete surprise, considering that he's averaging 4.4 points this season. Nevertheless, Bradley didn't miss for an entire quarter, connecting on his first seven shots to score 15 points in the opening quarter, helping give the Celts a 27-12 lead after twelve minutes. Washington shot just 14 percent in the quarter (3-for-22).
"My main focus is to play hard on the defensive end," said Bradley, who had three boards and one steal. "I was fortunate enough that my teammates could find me in transition."
The young defensive specialist would only score four points in the second, and the Wizards would improve slightly on the offensive end after bottoming out at 12 percent shooting during the period. Paul Pierce scored eight in the quarter on 3-of-6 shooting after being held without a point through the 5:21 mark of the frame. Pierce would finish with 21 points.
"He was awesome for us tonight," Pierce said of Bradley. "He gave us a big lift, especially with the injuries we have right now to Ray (Allen) and Mickael (Pietrus), who would fill up the two guard role ... He's just gaining more and more confidence as the year goes on."
Bradley made the first bucket of the third quarter, giving him a new career-high in points with 21. Washington went on a 13-0 run in a three-minute span after that to trim its deficit to eight points, 55-47, before Boston went on an 8-0 run to recapture the momentum. Washington nearly made it a single-digit deficit in the fourth before finally falling.
"I mean we fought," Wizards interim head coach Randy Wittman said about his team's second half. "There was no fight in the first five minutes of that game. That was lay-up drill with no defense. I don't know why it happened. We responded in the second half. We can't afford to give up starts like that. We brought it to eight with the ball, I think. That's a positive. Obviously losing and the way we started the game was definitely not a positive."
Brandon Bass had 11 points and seven boards and Kevin Garnett and Greg Stiemsma each scored 10 as Boston shot 48.6 percent on 34-of-70 shooting. Jordan Crawford scored 20 and Kevin Seraphin had 15 points to lead Washington, which was held to 34 percent. John Wall was held to just 12 points and nine assists in over 38 minutes.
"They just started off with great defense," said Wall, who hasn't scored 20 or more since March 18. "We just didn't do a great job of moving the ball as a team. Taking bad shots. They executed, getting whatever they wanted offensively. They just got a big lead."