BOSTON — At first, Avery Bradley's inclusion in the Celtics' starting lineup was a matter of matchups. As Celtics coach Doc Rivers noted before starting Bradley against the Wizards on Sunday, the C's needed someone who could cover free-shooting Jordan Crawford, and Bradley fit the bill.
Then Bradley went and scored 23 points and everything changed.
A month ago, if Ray Allen and Mickael Pietrus had both been unavailable due to injuries, Marquis Daniels or a healthy Keyon Dooling might have cracked the starting five. Both are veterans, with Daniels possessing more size than Bradley and Dooling having the ability to share point guard duties when he is on the floor with Rajon Rondo.
With Allen missing Wednesday's game with a nagging right ankle injury and Pietrus still feeling the effects of a concussion sustained Friday in Philadelphia, Rivers never seemed to hesitate to send the 6-foot-2 Bradley out to contend with 6-foot-6 guard C.J. Miles of the Utah Jazz. Bradley even spent portions of the game matchup with 6-foot-8 forward Gordon Hayward and never got wide-eyed.
"I feel a lot more confident because I know my team and Doc are really behind me," Bradley said after logging 43 minutes against the Jazz. "I know what they expect. I'm not out there lost. I'm a lot more confident. I don't second-guess anything. I just go out there and play my game."
His "game" is defense, or at least it was for the first 45 games of the season. He failed to crack double-digits in scoring in a third straight game on Wednesday, but he was actively engaged in the offense, scoring nine points and recording two assists.
"He's a big part of our offense, not just our defensive schemes," Kevin Garnett said. "The kid's worked his behind off to get where he is and I'm happy for him. I hope now that we're at the end of the year, they take those opportunities, him and [Greg Stiemsma] and some of the other guys, because they've earned it.
"You see these guys come in and put in the work," Garnett said. "Young guys don't always grind like this. A lot of them don't come in and work like this, so it's good to see. It's refreshing, to be honest."
The knock on Bradley in his first season and a half was that he could not score. More than an hour before tip-off on Wednesday, he was on the parquet at the TD Garden, alternating with Sasha Pavlovic in shooting drills.
Bradley aims to be better, and in the last week, he has been hitting his target.