In a game that was supposed to be Jordan Crawford's showcase, his chance to redeem himself with a monster performance against a Washington Wizards team that traded him a year ago, the Celtics' point guard surprisingly faded into the background as the C's attempted to close out a close game at the TD Garden. Instead, his backcourt running mate grabbed the spotlight.
Avery Bradley, famous for his relentless defense but rarely noted for his ability to take over offensively, suddenly became a force late in the third quarter as the C's tried to keep a big lead from slipping away. With the team only up one with a minute to go in the third, 72-71, Bradley stepped up and knocked down a running 20-footer, widening the lead to three.
From there, the floodgates opened. Bradley drilled an 18-footer. A driving layup. Three straight long 2-point jumpers, two assisted by Kris Humphries and one by Phil Pressey.
Suddenly, Bradley had scored 12 consecutive Boston points, all within three minutes, without missing a single attempt. The C's had a decent lead in hand, 84-78, and it was time to close it out.
Call it overconfidence, call it what you will, but the Celtics started to miss shots at an alarming rate in those final 10 minutes, including three ugly ones from Bradley. C's fans have always longed for Bradley to trust his shot a bit more, but on this particular afternoon, he fell into the trap of trusting it too much. He started launching questionable shots - they were outside his range, or they were over the top of a bigger player.
Then again, you can't put this loss on Bradley. The rest of the team wasn't stepping up to help him.
"Right now, we're not understanding the game," Gerald Wallace lamented postgame. "We're getting too comfortable with our shots falling.
"For anybody, when you're making shots, the game gets a lot easier. It's a lot funner. Things go a lot better. But when you're not making shots, it's tough. When you continue to shoot those shots and they're not falling, it puts a lot of pressure on your defense. I think that's what we've done late in a lot of the games that we've lost. We're forcing shots, and they're not falling."
Bradley's relentless attacking was a welcome sight to see, while it lasted. And in the final box score, it sure looked pretty - he finished 12-for-18, including 2-for-3 from long range, for 26 points, two shy of his career high. For a guy whose main role today was to contain the relentless John Wall, the massive offensive output was a welcome throw-in.
"I just think he had a good roll about him," coach Brad Stevens said. "He was playing with a group that isn't known necessarily known individually for scoring the ball, so once he got going, we made a decision to go to him as much as possible. He did a great job with it."
The downside, of course, was that Bradley's hot streak led to complacency across the board. Bradley's teammates turned their motors off when they realized the young guard was carrying them, and Bradley just kept chucking because he felt so bulletproof.
When the shots stopped going in, everything crumbled for Boston.
"Don't wait for the shots to start falling to play the right way," Stevens said. "We got our energy off of making shots these last two games. We need to get our energy off of making stops. Once we do that, that cures a lot of the ills that we're talking about in the last three quarters."
Added Crawford: "We just have to stay focused. We're not staying focused for the full 48 minutes. We've got to do a better job of that. That's the difference between good teams and great teams. They know how to step on the pedal. That's what we've got to do."
And with that, the Celtics got on a plane to Indiana. Speaking of great teams.
Before the Christmas break, the C's face a tough test in the East-leading Pacers. Maybe tomorrow, they can discover firsthand what great teams do to maintain 48 minutes of effort.