Avery Bradley Bringing Back Boston Celtics' Defensive Identity

Zach BuckleyNational NBA Featured ColumnistJanuary 10, 2013

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 07:  Avery Bradley #0 of the Boston Celtics scores three against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden on January 7, 2013 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  The Celtics defeated the Knicks 102-96.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Although absent from the top of the Eastern Conference standings, the Boston Celtics (18-17) are not going unnoticed by their conference peers.

Not after a season-best four-game winning streak, which includes victories over three of the top five teams in the East (the New York Knicks, Indiana Pacers and Atlanta Hawks).

And certainly not with Boston holding opponents to just 84.8 points per game since the return of third-year guard Avery Bradley.

With Bradley and Rajon Rondo back together in the Celtics starting backcourt, Boston has bothered opponents from even entering their offensive sets. The Celtics might not boast an intimidating eraser at the rim, but they won't need one with team's initiating their plays late in the shot clock.

The hurried offenses of Boston opponents has resulted in the following field-goal percentages during the winning streak: 31.8 (Indiana), 41.2 (Atlanta), 40.8 (New York) and 39.3 (Phoenix)

A 6'2", 180-pound defensive-stopper may not be the prototypical franchise savior, but with Bradley back in the mix (he missed the season's first two months recovering from surgery on both shoulders), coach Doc Rivers has found the balance his rotation had been lacking.

As the Celtics stumbled through the early goings of the year, Bradley might not have been the missing piece. 

But Boston looked far removed from being 100 percent:


So maybe Avery Bradley isn't the head, but he's a leg, and we've been limping all year without him #voltron #celtics

— CelticsBlog (@celticsblog) January 8, 2013


With Bradley back in the mix, Rivers has new strings to pull. 

He can go heavy on defense, as he does with that starting Bradley-Rondo combo. He can balance either of his starters with marksman Jason Terry or the slashing Courtney Lee.

Neither Bradley (career 5.7 points per game) nor Rondo (11.0) are going to regularly rip nets. But that's why Paul Pierce is on the floor.

The Celtics might lack the imposing frontcourt of the Garnett-Kendrick Perkins days, but Bradley and Rondo are as frustrating of a defensive tandem as opposing guards will encounter.

With Boston guards limiting the length of opposing possessions, Rivers' offensive-minded players might only need 10 seconds of strong defense to finish a successful trip.

If Boston can keep getting strong defensive showings from their backcourt, they'll continue their ascent up the conference standings.

Of course, this club's dangerous no matter where they're slotted.