Avery Bradley returns, and suddenly the Boston Celtics have won five straight games to force themselves back into the playoff picture. Coincidence? Absolutely not.
Many felt that we should wait until Bradley came back before really judging this Celtics team, and those who surmised that have proven themselves right thus far. Boston has been simply incredible since the return of its defensive wizard, holding opponents to 84.4 points per game and 39.2 percent shooting in its five-game winning streak. The former stat is second-best in the league in that span, and the latter is tops in the NBA. The C's are also forcing 16.8 turnovers a contest in the process.
The Celtics are capitalizing on all of those turnovers, getting out on the break and scoring points in transition. This is adding another dimension to Boston's offense, a dimension that many anticipated we would see when GM Danny Ainge was making all of the moves to improve his ballclub during the offseason. Go to the 50-second mark in the video below and you'll see two consecutive forced turnovers that resulted in fast-break baskets for Doc Rivers' group.
Yes, Bradley's insertion into the lineup after finally getting healthy from two shoulder surgeries has injected new life into this team. Beforehand, the C's' offense was getting far too stagnant for long stretches. The team's inability to consistently get stops defensively was limiting its opportunities on the offensive end of the floor, resulting in a whole lot of standing around and running the shot clock all the way down before getting off a field-goal attempt.
That is not the case anymore. The Celtics have been scoring in a variety of ways, whether it be in the half-court set or out in the open floor. Given that the fast-break game has been opened up, Boston's offense overall seems quicker and more efficient. The ball movement seems more fluid, and the agonizing image of Rajon Rondo dribbling the air out of the basketball at the top of the key looks to be a thing of the past. Go to 1:03 in the video below and watch the ballclub's offense in the second half against the Atlanta Hawks. It was a thing of beauty.
Taking all of this into consideration, it's no surprise that the C's are surging. They are scoring in bunches and delivering knockout punches to opponents in the fourth quarter. That is something the Celtics weren't able to do throughout most of the first two months of the season. Too often they would fall prey to late-game droughts and, consequently, lost some contests that they really should have won. Go to the 1:50 mark in the following video. You'll see the Celtics deliver such a blow to the Houston Rockets.
Guys are looking more comfortable now. Jeff Green is throwing down vicious slams. Courtney Lee is forcing turnovers and is making plays in transition. Bradley is making Rondo's job a heck of a lot easier defensively. The return of the 6'2" guard out of Texas has had a profound effect on this team, and it really makes you realize how much Boston truly missed his presence.
Of course, the C's need to keep this up. They need to continue to cause turnovers defensively and then score points on the break. The Celtics are not known as a running team, but they have the personnel to be one.
This does not mean that Boston has to become the east coast version of Lob City. What the C's have to do is keep other teams off-balance. Sure, being able to execute in the half-court set is nice and that is the key to winning a championship, but you need to have some sort of versatility. Ever since Bradley stepped on to the floor for them, they have demonstrated such aforementioned versatility.
During these past five wins, the Celtics are shooting 48 percent from the floor. That is a direct result of getting good shot opportunities and not merely settling for mid-range jumpers like they so often do. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that fast breaks generally forge easy buckets. That is what has been happening for this Boston club.
It's not like the C's have been beating up on bad teams, either. They have beaten the likes of the Indiana Pacers, Hawks, New York Knicks and Rockets during this five-game streak (the other win was over the downtrodden Phoenix Suns). Obviously, the formula they are using is working, and it is working against teams who they may very well see in the playoffs.
If the Celtics maintain this level of play, a sixth-consecutive Atlantic Division title is right there for the taking.
All statistics in this article are accurate as of January 13, 2013.