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X-Factor: Can Avery Bradley lock up J.R. Smith?
With all the talk of the Celtics' midseason performance without Rajon Rondo, the one name that comes to mind is Avery Bradley.
When Rondo was playing, the team was blaming its slow start on the absence of Bradley. Bradley began the season on Jan. 2 after recovery from two shoulder injuries, a point at which the Celtics were 14-16.
After losing his initial game back, the team rallied for six consecutive wins including one on the road against the Knicks. The Celtics are 27-23 when Bradley plays.
Offensively, he’s not a gifted scorer, but he’ll help by getting out in transition for easy buckets. The strength of Bradley lies in his defensive assignment against the volume-shooter, Smith.
That’s not an easy cover.
But the Celtics are the best team at defending the outside shot, allowing just 32.4 percent from beyond the arc since Bradley returned on Jan. 2 (per NBA.com's advanced stats tool).
Bradley is the chief reason for the stifling perimeter defense, and he is one of the best on-ball, pressure defenders in this postseason. He will be accountable for limiting Smith.
Carmelo Anthony, who no doubt should put on a spectacular show against Paul Pierce, is going to carry this Knicks team offensively. But the Celtics’ greatest opportunity to pull off the upset as a No. 7 seed against the No. 2 Knicks will be Bradley’s performance as a defender.
Smith, an X-factor in his own right, has become one of the top offensive threats in the last month of the season. During New York's stretch of 15 wins in 16 games, Smith scored 23.6 points per game on 48.3 percent from the field. He wasn't settling for jumpers, either, as he began to attack more often.