I was beginning to wonder if I could ever consider Avery Bradley a legit NBA player. It is has been slow coming and the jury is still out I suppose, but he went a long way towards establishing himself in last night's win.
The Celtics topped the Nets 89-70 in the type of ugly win that few will remember at season's end. But for Bradley, it might have been a career-altering moment, the point at which he made a leap to certified NBA role player. All with his defense. "Sitting there on the bench, you could just tell it was kind of dead in there," Bradley said. "Sasha was like, 'If we get in, we're going to lift up the energy, we're going to do whatever we can do.' My strength is on the defensive end, so that's what I was focusing on. If I got in on defense, I was going to try to lift the energy."
It certainly was "dead in there" last night. And he picked a perfect time to shine (albeit against a poor and depleted Nets team). With Ray out with the flu, he had a chance at extended minutes and he did well with them.
Simply put, Bradley is a defensive terror, who not only possesses the physical tools to be a great defender – long arms, quickness and speed – he also has tremendous anticipation and awareness for such a young player. His job is to play fullcourt defense on the ball. It’s not to get steals, necessarily. If Bradley makes his man turn his back from the pressure and if the other team’s offense doesn’t start until about eight seconds have gone off the shot clock, then he’s been successful. "The thing we don’t want to do is to get overextended and pick up fouls in the backcourt," veteran guard Keyon Dooling said. "The thing that Avery did tonight was gauging that balance. He had perfect balance as far as when to attack defensively and when to get back on his heels and play solid."
Bradley has been criticized by many (including myself) for looking passive or not confident on offense. He even put up an early airball that I'm not sure was even tipped last night. But he didn't let himself get overly down. He focused on his strengths and good things happened.
That’s what Rivers has continually stressed to Bradley, the importance of allowing his performance to flow out of his defense. "Now I understand what my role is," Bradley said. "I agree. I’ve been a good defender my whole life. One thing I say is that I can have an off offensive game, but I can never have an off defensive game. I feel like my defense creates my offense and also builds my confidence, so I’m always going to come hard on defense.
The upside for Bradley has always been "a sane Tony Allen." That would be just fine with me (though I do miss Salmon & Mashed Potatoes some days - then I remember Bad Tony and the moment passes).
If he can learn the offense enough to stay out of the way and keep the ball moving, then he can be a disruptive force on defense - which will in turn feed into his confidence on offense and create transition opportunities as well.
I could get used to the idea of Bradley being our new defensive stopper.