Celtics Tap The Fountain Of Youth Again
It wasn’t long ago that the 25-22, seventh-place Boston Celtics were living up to expectations as an aging veteran team that would be first-round fodder for the Chicago Bulls or Miami HEAT. Since then, it seems the team has dipped its toe into the fountain of youth as they put together a run of 10 wins against three losses to claim first place in the Atlantic Division. Inserting Avery Bradley into the starting lineup has been a big part of the Celtics’ resurgence.
In his second season with the Celtics, the 21-year-old guard is the youngest player on his team, younger even than the team’s three rookies. However, the former Texas star was known for his defense in college and that mindset fits in Boston.
“He was a good defensive player coming in the door, so that’s not anything we taught him,” said head coach Doc Rivers. “He came in with great individual defensive skills, he had to learn the NBA team defense and it just took him a while, but it takes everyone a while.”
At 6’3” and 180 lbs, the college shooting guard seemed destined to be converted to point guard, but that isn’t Bradley’s natural position and backing up Rajon Rondo wasn’t going to get him many regular minutes.
“We stopped trying to play him at point, which helped and made him more comfortable starting at the two,” Rivers said. “He is just getting more comfortable and starting to make shots.”
Bradley did get eight starts at the end of January while Rondo was out, but it’s been his 12 starts in place of Ray Allen where Bradley has really been able to shine. Over the past 13 games, Bradley has averaged 13.4 points on 51 percent shooting in 35.6 minutes while providing solid defense and giving Rondo a youthful fast-break target. His impact has been hard to miss.
It wasn’t an easy transition to the NBA for Bradley. His rookie season was beset by injury and had a stint in the D-League before he got to play some very limited minutes with the Celtics. Initially, it didn’t look like there would be many minutes for him this season either, but coaches always tell their young players to be prepared.
“I messed something up in my ankle, chipped a bone or something like that and wasn’t able to play,” said Bradley. “It set me back a lot, not only physically but mentally. It was hard for me to get back. Sometimes, because I wasn’t playing, I didn’t think I was as good as I was and things like that so it would be hard for me, but I went to the D-League and that helped me out a lot. It helped me gain confidence.
“I feel like anybody can do it once they get the chance and go out there and gain that experience. That’s all it’s about, gaining that experience, learning the NBA game, picking your spots, things like that.”
Boston’s starting lineup is a whole lot younger with Bradley and the surging Celtics have once again caught the attention of everyone interested in this year’s NBA playoffs. A focused veteran team is a dangerous opponent in the postseason.
“I feel like we just take it one day at a time,” said Bradley. “That’s the type of team we are. We focus on today, we’re not worried about tomorrow, just focusing on the game right now and it shows what kind of team we are. That’s how we do things and our leadership like Kevin Garnett and those guys make sure that’s our main focus, not worried about next year or the year after, we worry about this year and what’s going on every game.
“You’re going to think this is crazy, but everybody helps me out and that’s why I love my team so much. I love playing for Boston because everyone wants to see you succeed. When you’re in an organization like that, only good things can happen.”
What has been good for Bradley has been better for Boston as the Celtics are back in the conversation as potential contenders in this year’s playoffs. The veterans might be playing like they have found the fountain of youth, but there is nothing like actually adding an effective young player to make the veterans’ jobs a little easier. Shades of the impact another young, underrated second-year player had the first time this Big Three won an NBA championship?