Heading into the 2011-12 season, not many experts would have predicted that the loss of guard Avery Bradley could be damaging to the Boston Celtics' chances of reaching the NBA Finals. But that's exactly how things have turned out.
Bradley, who's out for the remainder of the playoffs, will undergo shoulder surgery on Friday. The injury will affect the Celtics in a couple different ways as Boston attempts to conquer the Miami Heat and win the East.
His impact will be felt the most on the defensive end of the floor, and it could be felt in a huge way, given the way Miami guard Dwyane Wade has played in the Heat’s past three games.
Wade has appeared to shake his shooting woes. He's averaged 33.0 points while shooting a whopping 62 percent from the floor (40-of-65) in Miami’s three consecutive wins over the Indiana Pacers. Being able to put Bradley on Wade would be a huge advantage for Celtics head coach Doc Rivers, as the third-year pro is a relentless, on-the-ball defender who would make things much more difficult on the eight-time All-Star. In two April wins against the Heat with Bradley in the starting lineup, Wade was limited to a combined 35 points on 15-of-38 shooting (39 percent).
Paired with Rajon Rondo, Bradley gives the Celtics the quickest backcourt in the NBA. Together, they are a pain for opposing guards to have to deal with at both ends of the floor. With Ray Allen back in the starting lineup, Rivers doesn’t have that luxury anymore, though, and Wade could turn into problems for the Celtics.
Allen’s mobility is limited due to a sore ankle that’s bothered him for some time. While Rivers may elect to use him on Miami point guard Mario Chalmers instead, the Celtics certainly aren’t as good defensively without Bradley in the lineup.
Boston will also miss Bradley at the offensive end of the floor, as he’s turned himself into a decent jump shooter. Allen has had his struggles from the floor as of late, making only 11-of-35 shot attempts (31 percent) during the past four games.
Bradley doesn’t offer nearly the impact on the offensive end of the floor as he does on the defensive end, but being able to bring Allen off the bench and use him in spots makes the Celtics a much deeper team. Now, the Celtics have to hope that the future Hall of Famer’s ankle holds up, or Boston could be in real trouble.
Five months ago, no one would have thought that not having Bradley in uniform for the Eastern Conference Finals would be as big of a deal as it has become right now. But ultimately, that could be determines whether or not the Celtics can advance to the NBA Finals.