BOSTON - The backcourt of the future is finally back together. Avery Bradley returns to the Celtics' starting lineup on Super Bowl Sunday to play alongside Rajon Rondo for fourth time this season. Bradley, who missed five games after spraining his ankle in the first quarter of the Celtics' loss to the Heat 11 days ago, was averaging 16.3 points per game in January.
"I mean they haven't really had much time together the last two years," coach Brad Stevens said. "So it will be nice, but I'm not expecting them to play like Bird and McHale just yet either.
"It's something that takes a bit of time to get the feel of how they play best together and I do think they can be a heck of a combination. And I do think they really like playing together, so I think it's really good for them to now get a chance to do that."
Since the Jordan Crawford trade and the return of Rondo, the Celtics have looked disjointed on both ends. The offense has become somewhat confused and stagnant, while the defensive perimeter has struggled to handle the pick-and-roll. But Stevens sees that issue as something that will be mended with time on the floor together, something that he himself has seen little of this season.
"I haven't watched [film] since Avery's been hurt. I watched it over the summer quite a bit. And what it does is, offensively, I think we all know what they do. Rondo is a distributor, a passer, a playmaker and Avery is more comfortable at the two. I think that fits pretty easily and well.
"I think defensively, they add some flexibility in that Rondo can guard off the ball and on point and Avery the same. If [Victor] Oladipo is giving us problems, maybe you end up switching. If [Arron] Afflalo is giving us problems, maybe you end up switching. You know, you just kinda go and play it by ear that way."
With Bradley back in the lineup, Chris Johnson, in the middle of his second 10-day contract, will see a significant drop in minutes. Johnson has been a pleasant surprise for Boston, filling the hole left by the Courtney Lee trade well with both Bradley and Jerryd Bayless out.
"It's difficult and obviously, Avery is a guy that you know has been here and has been around and everything else," said Stevens. "It's been tough juggling all of those things in the past few weeks; just because we've been short-handed for an number of reasons, but mostly just because of personnel change and injury. But I think the guys have done a reasonable job when called upon in those circumstances. So hopefully, as we get more bodies we become a little bit more consistent."
Down low, the Celtics have been trying to figure out what to do with Vitor Faverani, the rookie center who shined early on, but has disappeared from the rotation since. It looks like Stevens and Danny Ainge have found a way to utilize Faverani better, sending him to the D-League with the Maine Red Claws for several days before recalling him Sunday morning.
"I thought [Faverani] did some good things Friday and played well yesterday," Stevens said. "The thing that you want out of that is, number one, is to get more game experience and number two is to get up and down the court and from a physical standpoint and make sure you're staying sharp from a playing standpoint. And it's great for him to get those extra minutes. Like I said before, we will probably utilize that more throughout the next couple of months.
The Celtics and Magic play the only game in the NBA Sunday, as there is only one sporting event the country is watching. Stevens, when pressed for his pick in the Super Bowl, played it Switzerland-style:
"Heck of a game, I'm not into predictions."