April 1, 2012; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics guard Avery Bradley (0) drives to the basket during the second quarter against the Miami Heat at TD Banknorth Garden. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-US PRESSWIRE
Don't look now, but Boston Celtics' second-year guard Avery Bradley has become a dual threat. Bradley, known initially as a defensive specialist, hit his stride offensively during the absence of veteran Ray Allen.
Raise your hand if you saw this coming. Now, everyone but Doc Rivers, put your hand down. Practically nobody could have seen this coming, at least not this quickly.
Somehow, Avery Bradley has become a dual threat, and he's done so in a span of six games.
Bradley had carved out a solid niche as a defensive stopper in his second year in the league, but was still missing the ever-important offensive skill set. Much like Rajon Rondo, if Bradley could become consistent on the offensive end, he would be the complete package.
Rivers easily could have gone with another player to fill the void. Keyon Dooling has plenty of experience playing the position, as did Marquis Daniels and Sasha Pavlovic. E'Twaun Moore is even more of a two-guard than Bradley. But he went with Bradley, and it paid off.
Bradley first stepped into Allen's starting spot in the Celtics' home game against the Washington Wizards on Mar. 25, and all he did was go 7-for-7 in the first quarter and score 15 of his career-high 23 points in the frame as Boston thumped Washington.
"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 after the game. "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."
While his offensive production would wane in the Celtics' next two games -- he would score 11 and nine, respectively -- Bradley would have productive games against the Timberwolves and Heat, finishing with 17 and 13 points.
On Wednesday night, Bradley put forth another strong offensive effort, leading the team with 19 points coming off the bench (Allen returned from his ankle injury and started), but the Celtics fell just short against the Spurs in a 87-86 loss after Paul Pierce's jumper fell short at the buzzer.
Bradley entered the game with 3:44 left in the opening period, but most of his damage was done in the second quarter, and he had eight points at the 8:50 mark and finished the half with 13 points.
Boston outscored San Antonio 16-9 in the second quarter to cut its deficit to four, 68-64, entering the fourth. Bradley played 6:16 of the period and did not register any stats, but his presence helped the Celtics pressure the Spurs.
In the fourth, Bradley was tied for a team-high six points and had one steal in 12 minutes. Bradley's reverse layup on a back door cut with 3:45 left even gave Boston a 81-79 lead.
"It was big," Bradley said of the second-half run. "I think it started on the defensive end. Like I always say we are a defensive team first before anything. Doc puts a big emphasis on how we play defense and I feel like we didn't cover the pick and roll very well in the first half, but throughout the game we started to get better at it."
What has caused Bradley's sudden transformation into a two-way player? For starters, his confidence has risen dramatically, and that has allowed him to be comfortable taking shots when playing on the same court as future Hall of Famers Allen, Pierce and Kevin Garnett.
For the Celtics, it's a much-needed boost. But for others, like the Spurs, Bradley can be annoying.
"He's a pain in the ass," Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said. "I mean, the game starts and you know what he's going to do. He's going to cut from the corner to the bucket and lay it in. He's going to cut diagonally from the top. You know it and you go play I think he was the leading scorer. I didn't check the stat closely but somebody yelled that to me. You've got to give him credit. He knows his role and he does it very, very well. He killed us all night long."
Of course, most players would love the opportunity to have a consistent starting role, and Bradley likely would too. Still, Rivers insists that Bradley doesn't mind coming off the bench.
"It's what I tried to tell you guys before; starter or not, he's going to play the same" Rivers said.
The sight of Bradley getting the largest postgame media huddle in the Celtics' locker room is still something to get used to, but it is well-deserved for a player who could give the team crucial minutes off the bench if he can keep up his production down the stretch and in the postseason.
Should he continue to have success, Bradley could play a major role in the Celtics' future. So kudos, Danny Ainge. It looks like you found a diamond in the rough once again.