May 1, 2012; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Hawks guard Jeff Teague (0) drives to the basket while being defended by Boston Celtics guard Avery Bradley (0) during the first half of game two in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals of the 2012 NBA Playoffs at Philips Arena. Mandatory Credit: Joshua S. Kelly-US PRESSWIRE
What impresses me most about Avery's performance last night was his ability to make an adjustment. Teague torched him in the first half and was the spark plug offensively for the Hawks. He ignited the Atlanta faithful with every three-pointer, blocked shot, and chest bump. Philips Arena gets a bad rap as a home court but it was actually on fire for the first 24 minutes of that game. But then Avery Bradley extinguished it all (insert Amare Stoudemire joke here). A lot of young players would hang their heads, but not AB.
"I knew that I needed to stop Teague a little bit more," Bradley said. "He got going and so I wanted to take that challenge and show my teammates, pick up my defensive intensity and they had my back."
Essentially, Bradley was giving Teague too much space, so he made the adjustment.
"I was sagging off," he said. "I needed to get him in more and make him go where I wanted him to go."
Teague labored in the second half, going 1-for-8; one of his misses included an Avery Bradley block that fueled the mini-run that put Boston up 7 with under 4 minutes to go. Rondo might be the Black Lion of Voltron or the head of the snake, but last night and most nights, Avery Bradley is Perseus slaying the opposing team's Medusa.
"I feel like we all rub off on each other, pick each other up, trying to get everybody hyped up, that's what [Dooling] did," said Bradley. "People come in and bring that energy. Keyon, even Marquis [Daniels], too, he played great tonight. It just shows what kind of team this is."
The Celtics are a team that feeds off each other's defense and with Teague neutralized, he deferred to Joe Johnson late in the shot clock. In the fourth quarter, JJ was 1-for-3 with two turnovers and blanketed by Pietrus and Daniels. The Captain's performance last night is stealing a lot of the headlines, but it was that "grit and balls" defense that won that game for them last night and Avery set that tone.
I said it at the top and I'll say it again: what I love about Avery is that he took a shot in the mouth, licked his wounds and regrouped at halftime, and frankly, shut Teague up. He does it with little fanfare and chest bumping. He doesn't play to the crowd after a big stop. He just picks up his hard hat off the floor and moves on to the next play. He's a Celtic, through and through. Let's also not forget that he's replacing a Hall of Famer in the starting lineup and that he's only 21. It reminds me a lot of when a relatively unknown Rajon Rondo took the reigns when the Big Three was first assembled in 2007. Confidence from their teammates begat confidence in their own talents begat results on the floor. Avery's effort last night prompted Keyon to say, "I want you to understand something. He has superstar potential."
There is no doubt that he's a dynamic player that can do so many things on both sides of the ball, but what makes Avery truly special is that blue collar attitude that he brings every night. Doc has raved that Rondo is the smartest player he's ever coached, but he's also widely known to be enigmatic and stubborn. On the other side of the coin, there's Avery, who's just as much a sponge for veteran advice and guidance as he is a defensive stopper. This has been such a tough season with all the injuries and losing streaks that it's great to see a gym rat finally get his cheese.
Before Game 2, Mike Gorman asked Avery how he felt after his first playoff game. His response was very Avery Bradley-esque: "Suddenly, everybody's playing as hard as I do." Somehow, I really doubt that.