During the first 11 games of the season, Bradley played 11.5 minutes or less 10 times, and the Celtics staggered to a 3-7 record in those games. Early in the season, coach Doc Rivers tried Mickael Pietrus, Marquis Daniels and Keyon Dooling as first guards off the bench.
While the team improved to reach .500 level, that was primarily due to star Paul Pierce getting back into healthy shape and conditioning.The Celtics appeared destined at best to be first-round losers in the playoffs.
However, on March 25 Boston was missing both veteran Ray Allen and Pietrus with injuries. Rivers turned to Bradley and played him 40 minutes in that night's victory over Washington.
In the last 19 games of the season, Bradley sparked Boston to a 14-5 record by shooting 52.3 percent (116 of 222) after shooting only 46.7 percent earlier in the year and averaging 15.1 points per game. His rebounds per game soared from 1.3 to 3.0, and his steals per game increased from 0.4 to 1.5 with the additional minutes.
He also made his teammates better. In the 15-game stretch March 25 through April 18, Pierce averaged 23.1 points per game and shot 46.8 percent, while the rest of the season his numbers were 19.4 points and 43.2 percent. In those same 15 games, Kevin Garnett averaged 18 points per game versus 15.1 the rest of the season.
The Celtics' season-series with Philadelphia paralleled the entire year: two disastrous blowouts by the 76ers in games in which Bradley only played 14 minutes apiece and then a Boston romp in the last game in which Bradley started and played a significant role. One could argue that both defeats, March 7 and 23, were road games in which a well-rested 76ers team was hosting an older Celtics club that had played the night before.
The March 7 103-71 slaughter was over by halftime and could be attributed to the Celtics having to go overtime in the previous night's win versus Houston. In this rout Allen shot 0-5, and Rajon Rondo was 2-8.
The March 23 game was more of the same. Boston had flown into Philadelphia after winning in Milwaukee the night before. The Ray Allen-less Celtics even led at halftime but were outscored 37-17 in the third quarter.
In both these games, Philadelphia guards Jrue Holiday and Andre Iguodala destroyed the Celtics. Frustratingly, Bradley, who established himself as a defensive stopper in his college career, was permitted only 14 minutes of playing time in each of these lopsided losses.
One might have expected more of the same when the teams met April 8 in Boston, for the Celtics were again playing the second game of a back-to-back after a stirring win in Indiana.
Not so this time, however, as Boston jumped to a big lead on "lights out" shooting. Bradley helped stymie the Philly guards, who together had 26 assists in the first two games but only three in this one.
In his 35 minutes, Bradley revealed an offensive game most Celtics fans were unaware he possessed. He scored 18 points on six-of-12 shooting, including a three-pointer, and distributed five assists. His speed combined with Rondo's facilitated numerous easy, wide-open shots for teammates. Garnett scored 20 on eight-of-11 shooting, Pierce scored 17 on seven-of-12, and Brandon Bass had 18 on eight-of-10.
A skeptic might say "that's only one game." However, over the last 19 regular season games and the first four playoff ones versus Atlanta, it appears Avery Bradley is the "real deal." In the series-clinching Game 6 Bradley's plus-12 was tops on the team and stood in stark contrast to Allen's minus-nine.
The mid-season fan ennui has changed dramatically, as Celtics fans are already salivating at the thought of Bradley shutting down Miami's Dwayne Wade in an Eastern Conference finals series.
Look for Bradley to catapult the Celtics to a comfortable series win over Philadelphia and set up that eagerly awaited series against Miami.
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