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How Avery Bradley beat Jimmy Butler

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The Bulls’ star forward admitted he lost the matchup to the Celtics’ guard in Game 5. Here’s how Avery Bradley was able to dominate for the Boston Celtics in his playoff-high performance. 

NBA: Playoffs-Chicago Bulls at Boston Celtics Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Avery Bradley is a little unnerving. His steely gaze is ever-watchful when he’s on the court taking in everything around him. His attention is unbroken and his glare unblinking as he maintains the calm demeanor and steady focus of a Zen master or a Shaolin monk.

Behind Avery’s intimidating stare, it’s clear that a cool, calm, collected, and most of all, calculating mind is at work. In Game 5 against the Bulls, Avery Bradley put his meticulous basketball mind to task and the result was his best postseason performance to date and one of the best outings of the young veteran’s career.

After calling for the initial kick-out pass to Smart, Avery edges into position in the corner behind the three-point line and readies himself for the extra pass. Now defended by the bigger, slower Lopez, Bradley doesn’t hesitate to shoot over the Bulls’ forward and sink the three to give Boston the lead. This is a short, sweet and masterfully orchestrated play that shows Bradley’s leadership, basketball IQ and poise under pressure.

As the longest-serving Celtic currently on the roster Bradley has copped his fair share of criticism and earned an almost equal amount of accolades. At the beginning of this season he was arguably the Celtics most improved player, and this was after having improved substantially from the season prior. He had worked on new moves, developed his dribbling, and come up with new ways to find shots for himself and his teammates. Plus, the undersized guard was the Celtics most consistent rebounder for a significant stretch.

Bradley’s rebounding is all about positioning. Here he knows when the shot is about to go up and sneaks in from the perimeter, with the Bulls’ defense ball-watching, there is no box out and Bradley is able to saunter under the rim for the put-back.

Unfortunately injury hampered what was looking like a breakout season for Bradley and after being sidelined he struggled to find his improved form again when he returned to the lineup. But in Game 5, Avery Bradley struck back with one of his best ever two-way performances, guarding Jimmy Butler on one end of the floor and pouring in 24 points on the other end.

Running out from the corner and taking the dribble hand-off pass from Horford, Bradley draws two defenders before using a hesitation move to blow straight by them for the all-too-easy dunk. Another play showing Bradley’s improved initiative and ever-developing skill-set.

Perhaps more excitingly, Avery achieved his success by showcasing a versatile variety of moves. Unlike the Avery of old he didn’t score almost exclusively from the perimeter and his team-defense was as good as his man-to-man defending.

Bradley loses Butler before the inbound ball becomes active and then shoots over Lopez and nails the difficult shot in traffic. With the shot clock winding down the fast feet, quick trigger and easy execution of Bradley saves Boston from what could have been a broken play.

There are some interesting stats that have been circulating in the wake of Game 5 and a fair few of them illustrate exactly how impactful Avery was in that game and has been in this series. Bradley matched Butler practically minute for minute in Game 5, he doggedly defended Chicago’s star and left Butler struggling to score. Butler finished the game with 14 points shooting 6 of 15 from the field. In the post-game interviews when Butler was asked about Bradley the Bulls’ star was quick to humbly admit, “I didn’t win the matchup.”

Bradley knows where Butler wants to be and makes sure he doesn’t get there. With no other options inside, the Bulls still force the pass and Bradley forces the turnover, ensuring his tap-out falls into the hands of the nearby Marcus Smart and giving the Celtics the ball.

In fact, over the series Bradley seems to have been a big reason why the Celtics have been able to contain Butler who has shot at 40% from the field on average over the first five games. Moreover, Butler regularly struggles against Boston’s defense and looking at the matchups, it’s almost always Bradley who guards Jimmy Buckets and for the most part, keeps the buckets at bay.

While Bradley’s defense has long been touted around the league as All-NBA caliber, his improved offense in Game 5 provided the boost the Celtics needed. Cutting, driving, laying it in, Bradley scored in a variety of ways and revealed that he could be the third pillar to the Celtics’ machine alongside Al Horford and Isaiah Thomas if he can consistently contribute at this level.

Here Bradley completes a variant of one of Stevens’ pet plays (and one of Mike Prada’s 31 cool things to watch for during the playoffs) the aptly named Boston Loop. Bradley draws his defender inside while Olynyk draws the bigger, slower players out to the perimeter. Then with a burst of speed Bradley ditches his man and curls around to the top of the arc to receive the pass from Smart and make the open shot.

As the last holdout from the Doc Rivers era (unless you count Gerald Green), Bradley has a de facto veteran status on the Celtics’ roster. While his focused attitude and locked-in style of play has garnered him acclaim from around the NBA.

Yet on a team of players renowned for having something to prove AB remains probably the most underestimated player on the Celtics’ roster. If Bradley can continue to work both sides of the floor – shutting down opposing scorers and finding ways to score himself – he could end up being the biggest x-factor in this series and if his improved form persists he could help push the Celtics deep into the playoffs.

Videos and stats from stats.nba.com

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