What was blasphemous to say even three months ago is now a comforting reality for the Boston Celtics. Avery Bradley's emergence into a reliable scorer allows the team to be cautious about bringing Ray Allen back into the rotation. Against the Hawks, the Celtics will be much better if they sit Allen the duration of the series.
Bringing Allen back too soon could have multiple negative effects on the Celtics. After only playing five games in the past month, his rhythm and conditioning, even as the NBA's perennial best conditioned athlete, are not where they need to be for playoff basketball.
Bradley, on the other hand, is on a tear over the past month. He has averaged 15.1 points on 48 percent shooting from downtown. By comparison, Allen averaged 14.2 points on 45 percent from deep for the season.
While Bradley can't be expected to nail half of his threes forever, his speed and athleticism give Rajon Rondo a fast break partner. Against the Hawks, with Rajon Rondo pushing the pace, Bradley is an upgrade over Allen because he will get easy transition buckets.
In addition to his refined shooting touch, Bradley is still an elite defender who combines with Rondo for a lethal back court. Against the Hawks, Bradley will likely guard Jeff Teague and allow Rondo to rest by guarding the struggling Kirk Hinrich. If Allen were to come back, Rondo would be forced to spend more energy chasing Teague around the court.
The Celtics didn't miss a beat without Allen during the season and won't against the Hawks, either.
Coach Doc Rivers also will be able to tighten his rotation without alienating any key player. Mickael Pietrus and Greg Stiemsma are sure to get significant minutes off the bench. Without Allen available, it is likely that either Keyon Dooling or Sasha Pavlovic get regular minutes.
Another key point to sitting Allen for the series is to ensure that he is as close to 100 percent as possible for a potential second round matchup against the Chicago Bulls. Under coach Tom Thibodeau, the Bulls have a terrific defense that Allen will be needed to stretch with his three-point shooting. While Bradley has shot the ball well from outside recently, his shots come almost strictly in transition situations, whereas the Celtics often run plays for Allen in half-court sets.
Without Allen in late game situations, opposing defenses will be able to key in on Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. Allen's history of making late-game shots makes him essential for any Celtic playoff run after the first round.
The Hawks don't pose a realistic threat to the Celtics, so Rivers shouldn't risk potential injury to Allen in the first round. If the Celtics are going to challenge the Bulls and the Miami Heat for the Eastern Conference crown, they will need Allen's shooting against their stingy defenses.