Welcome to the thirsty thirtieth installment of “The Avery Bradley Chronicles”. In this on-going series, we follow the game-by-game development of Boston Celtics second-year guard Avery Bradley.
May 12, 2012
Eastern Conference Semifinals, Game 1: Boston Celtics (1-0) vs. Philadelphia 76ers (0-1)
Aldridge: “As this series goes on, there’s no rest for you guys, there’s a game every other day. You’re an older team, it may be difficult, how do you…”
Rondo: “It may not be. Look at us. We’ll be fine.” [Drops mic, walks away.]
Just prior to the start of the second half of Saturday night’s Eastern Conference Semifinal kick-off between the Boston Celtics and the Philadelphia 76ers, TNT’s Dick Stockton passed along the following bit of statistical ephemera: in 2011-’12, the Celtics were 1-22 in games in which they had trailed by 13 points.
With 3:44 left in the second quarter, Evan Turner knocked down a 15-footer that gave the Sixers a 13-point lead, putting them ahead by a score of 45-32. The Celtics had trailed for the entire first half, and would continue to do so into the second. Apart from Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, who had combined for 20 points off eight-of-13 shooting, they had shot the ball horribly. Those not named Garnett or Allen had managed to connect on only three of their 20 shots.
It was a frustrating watch for Boston’s fans, as the C’s actually appeared to be getting the shots they wanted. By our count, 13 of the Celtics’ 20 first-quarter field goal attempts were either open jump shots or shots at the rim. They made only four of them; three Garnett jumpers and one lay-in by Ryan Hollins.
“And here is Bass. They’ll let him shoot all night.” –Dick Stockton
“Believe it or not, I think this is what Philadelphia wants to give up. An undersized team, to give up jump shots to the tallest player on the floor. It’s just unfortunate for them, KG might be one of the best shooters on this Boston Celtics team from 15 feet and in.” –Chris Webber
On two separate occasions in the first quarter, TNT’s announcers suggested that the Sixers’ preferred approach might be to pack the paint and cede open jump shots to the Celtics, specifically to Garnett and Brandon Bass. If this was indeed the Sixers’ strategy, it certainly was an interesting one: Boston is amongst the league’s best jump shooting teams, averaging 41.1 percent from 10-15 feet (fourth-best in the league), 41.5 from 16-23 feet (third-best) and 36.7 percent from three (seventh-best). Furthermore, Garnett and Bass practically make their living off mid- to long-range jump shots. Both are in the top-10 in the NBA from 16-23 feet (minimum two attempts per game) at 48 percent, with Bass topping the league from 10-15 at 48.4 percent.
These numbers are important because, with the Sixers either failing to close out on Boston’s shooters or straight-up giving them shots, it seemed that, as long as the Celtics could continue the elite level of defensive execution that they had maintained all season long, they would find their way back into the game as their shots inevitably began to fall.
The tide began to turn immediately following Turner’s jump shot. The Celtics closed out the first half with a 10-2 run, during which they collected a pair of turnovers and hit five of their seven shots – three layups, a dunk and a mid-range jumper. Over the first four minutes of the third quarter, they collected two more turnovers and held the Sixers to one-of-eight shooting, while mixing lay-ins with mid- and long-range jumpers to spark an 11-2 run that put them up by four.
The Celtics’ scoring would ebb once more before one final run would put them up for good. Down 10 with just under 11 minutes to play, the C’s embarked on a 23-7 mega-run that carried them to the 1:17 mark. They blocked three shots and picked up two more turnovers. They held the Sixers to three-for-15 shooting, while connecting on four layups and five jumpers from 17 feet and out. When the smoke cleared, they were ahead by six. It was just enough to brace them against a final Philly push and see them exit a game in which only one of their starters made more than half of his shots with a 92-91 win.
So, including the playoffs, the Celtics are now 2-22 in games in which they’ve trailed by at least 13 points. Here’s a little fun fact about those 24 games: Avery Bradley started in only eight of them. In the 39 games that Avery Bradley has started this season, the Celtics are 28-11. Their average largest lead is 15 points; their opponents’ average largest lead is nine. In the 34 games in which Avery Bradley came off the bench or didn’t play, the Celtics were 16-18. Their average largest lead in those games was 11 points; their opponents’ average largest lead was 12.
We mention this because, though you may find this difficult to believe, the real story of the evening wasn’t Kevin Garnett’s masterful 29-point, 11-rebound performance, nor the fact that he’s turned in 57 points, 25 rebounds and eight blocks over the past two games. It wasn’t Rajon Rondo’s second triple-double of the playoffs, which was only three turnovers short of becoming the fourth points-assists-rebounds-turnovers quadruple-double since 1985-’86. The real story, as always, was Avery Bradley.
It’s been a fairly quiet playoffs for Avery Bradley thus far. Since his terrific performance in Game Two of the Conference Quarterfinals, in which he scored 14 points off four-of-eight from the floor and six-of-eight from the line while collecting three steals and blocking three shots, he’s seen his offensive production flag and his minutes diminish. Over the first two games of that series, he averaged 12 points on 40-percent shooting in 35 minutes per game. In the five games that have followed, he’s fallen off to 5.4 points on 35.3 percent in 22.1 minutes.
The drop-off in production and the reduction in role are the direct result of two events: the return of Ray Allen from an 11-game bone-spur-induced absence, and a Game Three shoulder dislocation, which led Doc Rivers to one of the more colorful descriptions of an injury and its treatment in recent memory:
He’s had that problem all year. Usually they’re able to – like a Lego – snap it back in. It wouldn’t go back in.
Over the final month of the regular season, Avery’s offensive game had rounded very nicely into form. In the season’s first 47 games, he had shot 46.7 percent from the field, including a woeful mark of 15.4 percent from beyond the arc, while scoring 4.4 points in 15.9 minutes per game. After Ray Allen aggravated his pre-existing ankle condition on March 23, Bradley was inserted into the starting lineup. He thrived in the role, scoring 15.1 points in 34.5 minutes over the final 19 games. His field goal percentage jumped to 52.3 percent, with a stunning increase on three-point percentage to 48.8. Even his free throw percentage improved from 75.7 to 82.9.
A reliable jump shot in Avery’s arsenal supplemented his adept back-door cutting, officially making him a dynamic offensive player. It also gave the Celtics yet another shooter to spread the floor with. The shoulder injury has taken that dynamism and flexibility away. Over the four games that followed the dislocation, he has shot one-of-eight from 10-23 feet and one-of-nine from beyond the arc.
With the jumper in a temporary state of disrepair, Avery has been left with the tools he built his reputation with in the first place: blinding open court speed, a terrific ability to convert at the rim (65.3 percent from up close), and stifling on-the-ball defense. In the Quarterfinals, he was often tasked with guarding Hawks swingman Joe Johnson who, at 6’8”, is half a foot taller than Avery is. Even so, he keyed a defensive effort that held Johnson to 37.3 percent from the floor and 25.0 percent from three – both well below his season marks of 45.4 and 38.8.
On Saturday against the Sixers, Bradley rotated between speedy point Jrue Holiday and ace sixth man Lou Williams. At the 9:35 mark in the first quarter, he showed his defensive chops to be as sharp as ever, picking up Holiday in the back court and pressing him across the half-line. Holiday cleared into the front court on a diagonal toward the sideline, slowing his dribble to a near stop several strides above the arc. He crossed left, retreated, crossed right and then dove forward in a futile attempt to shake Bradley loose. Avery stayed in front of him each step of the way, crouched low and cocked forward at the waist. His hands jabbed the air dangerously in all directions, slashing at the ball, at Holiday’s chest and into his sightline.
Spencer Hawes stepped forward to set a screen and Holiday advanced toward it. Bradley nimbly stepped forward, bumping chest-first into Jrue’s shoulder as he passed above the pick. On the other side, Avery saw an opening in Holiday’s dribble and lunged into it, rocketing fully forward with his right hand in the lead to punch the ball away and out of bounds.
Three minutes later, he had a serious case of the KG-patented jersey untuck going:
Avery scored eight points off four-of-11 shooting. He took five shots from 16 feet and out and missed all of them. Everything he got was at the rim, where he went four-of-six. These included:
- A wide-open transition lay-in with 2:38 left in the second quarter, which saw him beat everyone down the floor to collect a Rajon Rondo pass directly beneath the hoop;
- With 9:45 left in the third, a too-easy back-door cut to convert a Rondo mid-paint drive-and-dish, pulling the Celtics to within one;
- Thirty seconds later, another transition lay-in, this time as he sprung forward to pick up a tap-out off a Sixer miss and push it all the way back for a twisting, driving righty lay in that put the Celtics ahead for the first time in the game;
- With 7:15 left in the game, one last breakaway lay-in as Rondo found him in stride and ahead of the pack with a two-handed chest pass that travelled through the air from foul line to foul line.
Keyon Dooling liked basket number three the best, which swelled his heart to bursting with the bittersweet tears of a man both grateful to have set eyes on such a wondrous sight, and forlorn at the knowledge that he would never witness such rapturous beauty again.
Bradley capped his performance with two critical late-game defensive plays. The first occurred with 2:58 left in the game. With the Celtics trailing by one, Rajon Rondo drove hard through the lane and attempted to wrap a pass around Spencer Hawes to Kevin Garnett beneath the hoop. Hawes deflected the pass, which clipped off Garnett and bounced loosely toward the corner. Garnett gave chase and batted it back into play just as it crossed the boundary. The ball squirted past Lou Williams and into the hands of Evan Turner.
Turner whirled and lofted a pass down the sideline to Williams, who was now streaking toward the basket. The one man separating him from two easy points was Avery Bradley, who paced ahead of him by several steps. As Bradley entered the paint, he shortened his steps to allow Williams to catch up. Bradley turned at the semicircle and elevated in time with Williams. He leapt straight into the air, arms raised above his head. His momentum carried him backward as Williams drifted into him. Lou’s shot bounced dully against Avery’s hands before falling into the waiting arms of Rajon Rondo.
At the other end, Rondo dropped the ball off to Kevin Garnett, who got the and-one to go over Spencer Hawes. He made the free throw, putting the Celtics up by two.
On the subsequent Sixer possession, Lou Williams squared off against Bradley several steps above the arc. He dribbled in place for a moment, jabbed softly to his right, and then drifted to his left. He seemed weary, floating on his feet like a boxer listing about the ring in the late rounds. Williams dug deep and crossed back to his right before driving hard to the hoop. Avery back-pedaled before him, absorbing soft contact as Williams elevated into his body from the elbow.
The contact jarred the ball loose from Williams’ hands. Paul Pierce gathered the loose ball and hand-delivered it to Rondo who, at the other end, found Kevin Garnett for a long two that put the Celtics up by four.
These two down front loved it more than just about anyone.