April 20, 2012
Game 64: Boston Celtics (37-27) at Atlanta Hawks (38-25)
After Wednesday night’s 102-98 win over the Orlando Magic secured the Atlantic Division title and a number four seed in the playoffs, the Boston Celtics chose to put their stalwarts on ice, giving them some much needed rest in preparation for the rapidly-approaching second season. This meant that the starting lineup for your Boston Celtics in Friday night’s matchup with the Atlanta Hawks looked like this:
The Celtics lost accordingly (97-92), though not before cutting the lead to one six times in a dogged rally that spanned the game’s final 13 minutes.
In the grand scheme, the game was essentially meaningless. As mentioned, the Celtics have the four seed in hand and would have needed to win each of their last three games while the Indiana Pacers lost each of theirs to land the three seed. The payoff associated with the higher seed – likely a first-round matchup with the Dwight Howard-less Orlando Magic as opposed to these same Hawks – is hardly worth the additional wear and risk of further injury that would have been in play had any of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen or Rajon Rondo participated, especially considering the unlikely event of an 0-3 finish for the Pacers.
On the realistically attainable tip, a win would have given the Celtics a slight edge over the Hawks in winning percentage, improving their chances of securing home court advantage for the expected first round matchup. Of course, Boston would have needed Atlanta to out-lose the Celtics over their last few games to ensure home court. With venue of play meaning little without a healthy and rested compliment of players to participate in the games, the Celtics chose to focus on the things they could control and gave the big guns a rest.
And so we saw quite a lot of the occasionally-used Marquis Daniels (34:16), Ryan Hollins (30:21), E’Twaun Moore (18:34) and JaJuan Johnson (14:59), who all put in significant time off the bench, combining for 29 points on 12-29 shooting and 18 rebounds. We also saw quite a lot of Avery Bradley putting the ball in the hoop. One game after tying his career high with 23 points, Avery surpassed it, scoring 28 by making a career-high 12 of his career-high 22 field goal attempts. The real story of the evening was indeed Avery Bradley.
“Being a point guard in the NBA is a lot harder than college. That’s something that was a challenge for me at the beginning. I’m the general on the floor, and I have to put everybody in their spots. It was hard for me. I didn’t know what Doc wanted from me at first. I’m a scorer; he wants me to run the team and be able to score. Now, I feel a lot more comfortable out there with my teammates.” –Avery Bradley
With fellow starter Brandon Bass’ shot off-mark for much of the night (10 points, 4-15), the Celtics leaned on Avery to provide the bulk of the scoring. He responded by playing aggressively and with confidence, using a potent mix of dribble drives and long-range shooting to tally a point total that was second only to Hawks guard Joe Johnson’s 30.
Avery dominated the Celtics’ offensive possessions, perhaps to the detriment of his team at times. An ESPN “Wired” session showed Doc Rivers in a first-half huddle staring directly at someone off-camera, saying:
We want you to be aggressive, but you’ve got to be responsible, now. We want you to stay aggressive, but play with your teammates. That’s the only way you’re going to win. Getting numbers is great, but not when you’re losing.
Clearly, that mystery man was Avery Bradley, who created shots for himself on several possessions that featured zero passes.
Avery has thrived as an offensive player since replacing Ray Allen in the starting lineup on March 25. In the 17 games since that date, he’s averaged 15.5 points per game on 54.5 percent shooting, including a mark of 55.9 on threes. We’re not suggesting ball-dominance by a single player as a prescribed approach to winning basketball, but with scoring options limited (Keyon Dooling and Marquis Daniels also chipped in solid performances of 17 points on 7-10 shooting and 12 on 5-12) and most of the key defensive personnel watching from home, it may have been at least a part of the fabric of the best option available.
At the very least, it was fun to see Dr. B cut it loose. We were reminded of a post that Henry Abbott ran on TrueHoop, in which he recalled Avery being pitched to the Celtics by his agent as something “in the mold of Russell Westbrook or Jrue Holiday.” A month ago, a comparison to Westbrook would have seemed outrageous. Now, factoring Avery’s recent offensive performance in with his elite-level defense and eXtreme athleticism and looking through the prism of Friday’s game…we’re not saying he’s going to be Russell Westbrook, but it’s clear that he’s going to be a much different player from the undersized Bruce Bowen we thought he might turn out to be.
“We got a look at him against Orlando, where he had to play the point for the entire game. He’s really matured to the point where his confidence level finally allows him to do that.” –Doris Burke
Avery Bradley scored 28 points, making 12 field goals (including one three) and three of his four free throw attempts. He also racked up three assists. Here’s how it went down:
11:26: Avery gets the first points of the game, using a pick from Greg Stiemsma to get from the wing to the free throw line for a pull-up jumper (Boston 2, Atlanta 0).
7:15: Runs a terrific pick and roll with Greg Stiemsma from the top of the key, using the screen to get just inside the arc, where he leaps and fires a bullet to the diving Stiemsma for an open lay-in (9-16).
6:50: Off a Joe Johnson three-pointer, Avery takes the inbound pass and pushes the ball up the court in an impressive display of raw speed. He veers toward the sideline, muscles past Jeff Teague, then attacks the basket, slicing through Josh Smith and Kirk Hinrich to convert the contested lay-in (11-19).
5:51: Greg Stiemsma rebounds a Jeff Teague miss and pushes up to Bradley, who is once again running hard into the front court. With Josh Smith to beat, Avery puts down a stutter-step hesitation at the elbow then drives to Smith’s left for another lay-in against a strong contest (13-21).
4:50: Set up on the wing and fronted by Kirk Hinrich, Avery deploys a jitterbug sidle-step as a feint toward the baseline, then runs his man into a screen from Ryan Hollins, getting a step inside the paint for a pull-up jumper (17-26).
“It’s just amazing, the presence about this guy all of a sudden. He just looks different. He steps between the lines with a different feel about him.” –Doris Burke
3:57: Less than a minute later, Avery collects an inbounding pass at the extended elbow and circles the arc toward a Brandon Bass screen at the top of the key. Avery edges outward to drive around Josh Smith before pulling up for the 20-footer over Joe Johnson’s outstretched hand (19-28).
0:44: Avery does it alone again. This time, after collecting the outlet from Sasha Pavlovic’s defensive rebound, Avery drives to a spot two steps to the left of the top of the key, where he is greeted by a double team from Josh Smith and Kirk Hinrich. Avery crosses to his right and runs Hinrich into another Ryan Hollins screen, getting to within 10 feet of the hoop for a pull-up push shot from above the low block (27-32).
8:28: From the bench, Avery demonstrates that he is a caring and supportive teammate, throwing up the three signal as E’Twaun Moore launches one from downtown. It misses.
5:26: Avery tallies his second assist, this time in transition off a Vladimir Radmanovic turnover. Keyon Dooling collects the steal and gets a pass ahead to Avery. Streaking to the hoop with only a challenge from Vlad Rad to beat, Avery elevates and drops the ball off to a flanking Marquis Daniels who converts the bunny J (37-42).
4:11: Avery squares off against Jeff Teague from above the top of the key. Teague crouches down, extends his arm and places his hand on Avery’s chest, which almost functions as a ready-set-go. Avery puts the dribble down, jabs forward once, then uses a screen from JaJuan Johnson to explode to the hoop for an open lay-in, blowing by a “helping” Jason Collins along the way (39-48).
“He’s an explosive athlete. You get a glimpse of his speed sometimes and it’s impressive.” –Doris Burke
3:03: Moving without the ball, Avery collects a bounce pass from Brandon Bass on a hard drive to the hoop. He springs into the air on a dunk attempt over a strong challenge from Josh Smith. Josh gets the point on this one, fouling Avery on what appeared to be a clean block. Avery makes one of his two free throws (42-52).
10:58: Avery collects a very nice transition bounce pass from Ryan Hollins on his way to drawing a shooting foul in the open court from Jeff Teague. He sinks both free throws (51-58).
10:08: Inbounding from underneath the hoop, Sasha Pavlovic sends a pass to Ryan Hollins at the wing above the arc. Hollins returns the ball to Pavlovic at the top of the key, then drops down to set a screen for Avery, facilitating an open three from the extended elbow (54-58).
7:34: Avery gets his career-high 24th point on a pick and pop that he opts to keep for himself. Set up at the top of the key, Avery calls for a pick from Brandon Bass, using it to drive to an open space near the corner. Josh Smith stays with Bass to defend on the pop, so Avery takes the shot himself, knocking it down from 20 feet out (58-62).
2:44: Collecting a pass above the block outside the paint, Brandon Bass draws a double team and immediately kicks out to Bradley at the wing. With Kirk Hinrich defending, Avery throws down a cross that propels him two steps forward and into another 20-foot make (63-72).
1:25: Dribbling in place three full strides above the perimeter, Avery gets a back screen from Brandon Bass, using it to drive into a pull-up jumper just off the elbow (66-72).
1:10: On the subsequent Hawks possession, Avery gets into the front court to defend, then leans down to tie his shoe.
Trapped in the back court by E’Twaun Moore and Ryan Hollins, Kirk Hinrich assesses the best way to advance the ball. He spots a seemingly open Ivan Johnson at the front court arc and sends the pass his way.
Of course, the shoe-tie was a ruse (or at least we like to think so). Avery springs forward and intercepts the pass, taking it all the way back to the basket, where he hits a trailing Ryan Hollins with a lob. Hollins lets out an emphatic “yeah!” as he slams the ball through the hoop (68-72).
As Josh Smith looks to create something off the dribble, Avery finds himself at the rear end of the action, presumably out of the play. He’s essentially employing the same kind of disappearing act he uses to get himself buckets off back door cuts, drifting away from the action (or letting it drift away from him), then using his speed to reintegrate.
Smith sends the pass his way and Avery strikes, curling around the back end and springing forward to collect his second consecutive steal. E’Twaun Moore turns it into a three-pointer, cutting the lead to one with 0:39 left in the quarter (71-72). Unfortunately, one point would be the closest that Boston would get to the lead for the rest of the game.
Only two games left until the playoffs start. The C’s get a rare and much-needed three days of rest before Tuesday’s matchup with the Miami Heat. The season will then conclude on Thursday with a square-off against Monta Ellis and the Milwaukee Bucks. Check back in with the Kuts next week, and we’ll let you know if Avery cracks 30 in either game.