Avery Bradley, Greg Stiemsma Step Up for Celtics As Injuries Take Their Toll

Avery Bradley, Greg Stiemsma Step Up for Celtics As Injuries Take Their TollFor Avery Bradley to soar, Ray Allen had to stumble and Mickael Pietrus had to fall.

That is the cold, hard reality of the NBA, where they say nobody wants to see anyone get hurt but where everyone needs to be ready to play if something unexpected happens. Early in the season, Bradley was penciled in as a third-string shooting guard or possibly a point guard in mop-up duty, slated for another season of watching and learning.

Yet there was Bradley on Sunday, starting against the Wizards in place of Pietrus, who had been starting in place of Allen on Friday. Allen was sidelined with a sore right ankle, and Pietrus was, of course, recovering from the concussion he suffered when he crashed to the floor in Philadelphia.

Given no better choice, Celtics coach Doc Rivers slid Bradley into the starting lineup at shooting guard, and the second-year man out of Texas responded by scoring 21 points in the first 12 minutes, 26 seconds of the game. His offense came mostly off hard cuts to the basket for layups, but his night also featured a 3-pointer and a couple of spot-up jump shots.

"Anybody, if they get the opportunity, they need to play hard," Bradley said. "I was fortunate to get the opportunity and that I was able to make shots."

Bradley finished with a team-high 23 points in the Celtics' 88-76 victory over the Wizards. For most of the season, Bradley was the square peg of a two-guard hammered into the round hole at point guard, and the results were uneven.

Bradley earned a reputation as one of the best on-ball backcourt defenders in the league, but his 4.4 points per game average and .467 field goal percentage convinced many observers that he simply could not score.

Rivers disagreed with that assessment, but until Sunday it was simple to write off Rivers' opinion as a coach trying to instill confidence in one of his players.

"One of the things I've said consistently all year is that he can shoot the ball," Rivers said. "He was making me a liar for most of the year, so it was great to see [his shots] go in.

"There was a point where it was clearly confidence, because you see him in practice, he makes them, then he gets in the game and he just needed one to fall."

A few stalls down from Bradley in the Celtics locker room sat center Greg Stiemsma. Early in the season, Stiemsma was the player Rivers prodded, hoping to instill more confidence in him. Like Bradley, Stiemsma embraced defense first until he became more comfortable in the Celtics offense.

He looked more than comfortable on Sunday, scoring 10 points and coming within two rebounds of his first career double-double.

"It was all about opportunities," Stiemsma said. "Avery got some good looks early. I got some wide-open looks early, too. To get those looks on offense, those are great shots."

Stiemsma's most vocal supporter and harshest critic, Kevin Garnett, gave credit to Stiemsma for stepping up when starting center Jermaine O'Neal was lost for the season with a degenerative wrist injury.

O'Neal, a 16-year veteran, had a better understanding of the Celtics' rotations and fundamental defensive positioning, but Stiemsma brought youth and athleticism. Gradually, Stiemsma has improved on the non-physical elements of his game. The foul-prone center played more than 23 minutes Sunday and was whistled for only three personal fouls.

"Greg's been huge since the departure of J.O.," Garnett said. "As a big man, he's stepped in and been solid in the role that we need him. He understands what we're doing here. He understands his role, and I think he understands his role very well."

Stiemsma and Bradley have embraced their roles, but due to injuries, those roles have shifted — sometimes minute by minute. The two young players could not be content to play tough defense on Sunday. The Celtics needed them to chip in on the offensive end as well, and they responded.

"So far I think I've done a pretty good job of seizing those opportunities," Stiemsma said. "You never know how many more you're going to get. You saw that with the play with [Pietrus], obviously. You never know. You could be one play away from sitting out a game or a week or the rest of your career, so you can't take it for granted."

The way this season has gone, the Celtics are likely to need more contributions like the ones they got Sunday from the young duo. Just don't tell Bradley or Stiemsma that. Rivers would probably prefer both players continue to play like there could be no tomorrow.

Have a question for Ben Watanabe? Send it to him via Twitter at @BenjeeBallgame. He will pick a few questions to answer every week for his mailbag.

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