Let me begin with words I honestly believe: If Avery Bradley were healthy, the Celtics would win the 2012 NBA Championship. Unfortunately, that sentence is pointless dribble for obvious reasons, one of which being that every team (except, ironically, the two remaining ones out west) is facing/has battled a key injury in recent weeks, but where, say, Derrick Rose and Chris Bosh received their much deserved attention, Bradley’s is hidden in a way suggesting it isn’t a true dagger into this basketball team’s heart.
I won’t go into the countless stats that prove his consistent ability to make fellow teammate’s lives easier, and opponent’s lives more difficult (just trust me they exist), but at the age of 21, Bradley has already shown a subtle steadiness. His presence on defense allows Rajon Rondo to play to his unmethodical strengths, roaming the perimeter and saving a larger percentage of his energy for defensive rebound to one man fast break sequences. His slippery give and go cuts with Kevin Garnett give Boston’s valiant center a much needed pressure release, making double downs in the post all but impossible lest the defense prefer a wide open layup.
Bradley’s overall improvement on both ends of the floor this season suggests a player with a boundless ceiling. I can’t help but think back to what was probably the 2012 season’s turning point. On February 22nd, the score was 72-49 at halftime as Boston was in the process of getting embarrassed on national television, in Oklahoma City—sans Rondo and Brandon Bass.
Heading into the game with a four game losing streak, the simple logic here was that Russell Westbrook would absolutely destroy the wilting Celtics as they set their minds forward to the upcoming All-Star break, and with 31 points on 46 percent shooting, that’s exactly what he did. Let’s look a little closer, though.
Avery Bradley shared the court with Russell Westbrook for 32 minutes. In that time, Westbrook was 6-18 from the floor for 21 points, had three of his shots blocked (all by Bradley), and finished with a plus/minus of -4. It wasn’t what one might call “smooth sailing” for basketball’s most dynamic point guard.
When Bradley came off the floor it was like the removal of Westbrook’s muzzle. In nine minutes of being able to breathe, he attempted six shots, made five of them, and scored 10 points with a +15. Kind of ridiculous.
No one game can capture the importance a player has on his basketball team, but this one, coming several weeks before his insertion into the starting lineup, is a great example of how significant Bradley is for the Celtics.
His young legs briefly gave Boston a different identity, infusing the most pessimistic fan with raised expectations and newfound hope. With Bradley’s shoulder injury, all that is gone so far as it applies to the rest of these playoffs. But in regards to the Celtics immediate future? Having Avery Bradley in green should keep the torch of relevance and perennial success lit, and for that, all I can do is tip my cap, and offer thanks.