A Standing Ovation for Avery Bradley

May 6, 2012; Boston, MA USA; Boston Celtics shooting guard Avery Bradley (0) defends against Atlanta Hawks point guard Jeff Teague (0) in the third quarter of game four in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals of the 2012 NBA Playoffs at the TD Garden. The Celtics defeated the Atlanta Hawks 101-79. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-US PRESSWIRE

Although Avery Bradley’s playoff run has abruptly come to an end, how far this young man has come in the past five months will not go unnoticed.

As the second year guard struggled mightily during the beginning of the season, many were calling for him to be benched, myself included. E’Twaun Moore’s surprisingly good start didn’t help Avery’s cause as the two were head-to-head competing for playing time at both guard positions. Twelve games in during a 97-89 loss at home to the Thunder, Bradley was given a "DNP-Coaches Decision" by Doc in favor of Moore and the newly signed Mickael Pietrus. Rightfully so, as it seemed at the time, Doc was beginning to realize that Avery was not ready to make an impact on this year’s team. It took some time, but as the season wore on, Avery made that notion an absolute joke.

In the very next game hosting Toronto after Avery didn’t play a single minute against the Thunder, Rajon Rondo went down with a sore wrist due to a Linas Klieza flagrant foul. Avery filled in nicely at point guard scoring eight points in that 96-73 blowout. While Rondo was absent for the next eight games, Avery started at point guard helping the team to a 6-2 record during that span after winning only one of the previous six. While offensively he showed limitations with his lack of shooting touch and indecisiveness, Bradley made life extremely difficult for opposing point guards picking them up before half court and smothering them all game defensively. While still not turning too many heads, by the time Rondo would come back, Avery had proven that he was ready to play a role for this team.

With Rondo back in the lineup, Avery’s playing time dwindled as the backup point guard. While he did his job well as a stopper, it still seemed as if his game had a ways to go. In the games leading up to the All Star break, two of which he started in place of Rondo due to a suspension, Bradley’s jump shot began to fall. He went 11-20 from the field with 24 points in these final two games. This was only a sign of more to come.

During the next month after the All Star break playing about 15 minutes per game for an inconsistent, but contending Celtic team, Avery had really found a comfort zone. He gained confidence in his jump shot as this kept falling more regularly while he kept up with his avid defense. Avery Bradley was becoming very easy to root for as he improved his game, but again, only as 15 MPG player. This all changed when Mickael Pietrus went down with an ugly concussion against the Sixers. With Ray Allen already out with a bad ankle, Avery was finally getting a chance to start at shooting guard, his natural position.

Avery grabbed an opportunity by the horns and never looked back. In his first game with the starting SG gig versus the Wizards, Avery scored a career-high 23 points. Not only did he play extremely well with Rondo as these two absurdly quick guards briskly formed a connection on the court, the Celtics began to make winning a serious habit. In his fifth game starting, the previous four being all wins, Bradley held Dwyane Wade to 6 of 15 shooting and 15 points in a blowout statement win over the Heat. The blocked shot he made at the rim against Wade in this game has been played over and over ever since. Bradley didn’t stop there and neither did the Celtics.

Avery ended up keeping the starting shooting guard spot upon Ray’s return (excluding Ray’s first game back against the Spurs.) During the last nineteen regular season games where Bradley assumed the shooting guard role, he averaged 15.1 points and 1.4 steals while the Celtics went 14 and 5. Avery made anybody following the Celtics realize that he is a legitimate building block, and possible star, alongside Rondo for the next generation of this team.

The playoffs have been frustrating for Bradley with both shoulders popping out of place several times. A turn of events deems this now devastating as he will probably not be back after finding out he could do terminal damage if he continues to play and will need surgery. He has showed fight playing through the pain and has had success, even playing most crunch time minutes, though he hasn’t been himself offensively because of these shoulders.

In a critical game 2, while trailing the series 1-0, against Atlanta that will always be remembered for Paul Pierce’s turn-the-clocks-back performance with Rondo suspended, Avery Bradley was the other key that opened up the door to win this game. With 14 points, 3 assists, 3 blocks, and 3 steals, Bradley kept this team afloat until Pierce finished them off. For a player regarded as timid offensively earlier this year, Avery took control of the first high-pressure playoff game of his career starting at the point in place of Rondo. Without this performance and his all around contributions against the Hawks, do the Celtics even make it out of the first round?

While he may or may not ever become an All Star, Avery Bradley with Rondo on his side, is the future of Boston Celtic basketball. His defensive prowess on the ball not only ranks as the best for a Celtic guard, but right up there in the entire league. While not a player you’d give the ball and ask to create offense just yet, Avery has made significant contributions slashing to the basket, knocking down the mid range jumper, scoring in transition, and hitting the occasional corner three. Former Celtic and current Grizzlies’ stopper, Tony Allen, can only dream of having the offensive skill-set that Avery has displayed yet so early in his career.

It’s such a shame that he will not be playing Saturday night and most likely for the rest of these playoffs alongside the several future Hall of Famers who have grown to embrace this young man. Not only could they use him to get by the Sixers tomorrow, they may truly need him to get by the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals if they make it there. The prospect of guarding Wade without Bradley gives Celtics fans chills.

What a run Avery has had this year. He has transformed from a possible draft-day-bust into the sparkplug that helped this team over the hump to find their true identity late in the season. The future only looks brighter for such a remarkable basketball player with the heart of a lion at the ripe age of 21 years old.

Avery Bradley is a Celtic.

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