After clinching the Atlantic Division title and playoff four-seed with Wednesday’s 102-98 win over the Orlando Magic, the Boston Celtics elected to put their weary (Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett) and ailing (Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen) stars on ice for Friday’s tilt against the Atlanta Hawks. Keyon Dooling got his first start since January. JaJuan Johnson played double-digit minutes for the first time since March 9. Marquis Daniels saw more run (34:16) than he had in the past 16 games combined (33:22). The Celtics lost, 97-92.
The game was essentially meaningless. Its most significant impact was that it dropped the Celtics .025 points behind the Hawks in winning percentage. Winning percentage, not seeding, dictates home court advantage in the playoffs, and though it is not yet ensured, it appears most likely that the Celtics will meet the Hawks in the Conference Quarterfinals. A win on Friday would have given Boston an edge of .006 percentage points with two games left to play (three for Atlanta). Win or lose, the two teams remain close enough in the standings that home court advantage may remain undecided until the season’s final day.
With the true implications of the game’s outcome unrevealed until a later date, and with so many players who will likely not figure in the playoff rotation dictating the action, there was little to learn or conclude from the team’s play, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t a story brewing.
“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
One game after tying his career high in points scored (23), Avery Bradley surpassed it, scoring 28 points off a career-high 12 field goal makes on a career-high 22 attempts. With the bulk of the Celtics’ offensive firepower either temporarily decommissioned (see above) or ineffective (Brandon Bass: 10 points on 4-15 shooting), the Celtics leaned on Avery to provide the bulk of their 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 has thrived as an offensive player since replacing Ray Allen in the starting lineup. In the 17 games since that event, he’s averaged 15.5 points per game on 54.5 percent shooting, including a mark of 55.9 on threes. Given the “featured” role against the Hawks, he positively exploded. 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, looking at Avery’s recent offensive performance through the prism of Friday’s game while factoring in his elite-level defense and eXtreme athleticism…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 fouls Avery on what appeared to be a clean block. Avery makes one of his two free throws (42-52).
0:25: As Marquis Daniels drives from the extended elbow, Avery cuts to the hoop from the opposite corner, slipping behind an oblivious Joe Johnson to collect the pass for a reverse lay-in (49-56).
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).
0:51: On the next trip down, Avery once again leans down to tie his shoe, this time with the Hawks in the middle of running a half-court set.
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.
Ryan Hollins, Marquis Daniels and Brandon Bass converge on Smith as he approaches the paint, leaving an “open” space for Ivan Johnson below the rim.
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.
Avery scored 0 points and dished out 0 zero assists in the fourth quarter.
Here’s his line from the game: