In the feel-good aftermath of the Celtics' victory over the Wizards on Sunday, when second-year guard Avery Bradley erupted for a career-high 23 points and Rajon Rondo handed out 11 assists, leave it to Kevin Garnett to unintentionally spark some in-team controversy.
"Avery's probably — Rondo's gonna kick me in the behind for saying this, but — he's probably the fastest guy on the team," Garnett said. "He's very explosive, and I just don't think he's had a lot of opportunities to show the things that he can do."
Rondo had departed by then, but the hyper-competitive point guard could not have been pleased with the comparison. For once, the lack of practice time afforded the Celtics by this season's condensed schedule may be a good thing for Bradley. If Bradley were to face Rondo in workouts, it's safe to assume Rondo would make him pay for Garnett's remark.
There was no need to compare the two guards on Sunday, though.
Bradley has spent most of the season backing up Rondo at point guard, but Celtics coach Doc Rivers has insisted that Bradley is more of a natural two-guard despite standing only 6-foot-2 and toting a career shooting percentage of less than 45 percent. Because of Rondo's injury and suspension this season, Rivers was forced to use Bradley at the point more often than either the coach or the player seemed comfortable.
But on Sunday, injuries to Ray Allen and Mickael Pietrus created the need for an athletic off-guard. Rivers went with Bradley for his ability to cover Wizards guard Jordan Crawford, a conscious-free shooter who does not let a 28.5 percent mark from 3-point territory keep him from attempting more than four deep balls a game.
So while Rivers inserted Bradley into the starting lineup for his defense, he was pleased when Bradley knocked down a jump shot less than two minutes into the action. Seeing the ball fall through the net had a visible effect Bradley's confidence, as he scored 15 points in the first quarter on 7-for-7 shooting.
"I knew the defensive part and I've always believed he could make shots," Rivers said. "Playing with Rondo is better for him. You could see it. He could just run out there. He didn't have to wait for the ball. He didn't have to call a play. He didn't have to think where everybody was at. He just ran. [Sunday] he was an athlete. And that's what he is. He's a great athlete and when you play him with a point guard, that gives him the opportunity to be that. With the injuries this year, it's been difficult to use that combination."
Bradley's development has come in obvious, defined stages. He hardly saw the court in his first season until the final regular-season game, when he scored more than two-thirds of his season total in points by dropping 20 on the Knicks.
This season, he fought his way into the rotation with his hounding defense, and soon expanded that to cutting without the ball of offense. The problem was, Bradley had spent his entire basketball life playing with the ball in his hands, and when Celtics teammates hit him on his cuts, he often fumbled the ball or muffed the layup.
Soon, though, Bradley was able to draw on his football background to make clean catches and convert easy layups. If that was as far as he developed this season, it would have been helpful to the Celtics, but Sunday's scoring spree may have signaled a new chapter in Bradley's growth.
Bradley's performance also gave the Celtics reason to believe the combination of Rondo and Bradley can be effective. Pairing two guards who can't shoot generally makes it difficult to create the spacing necessary to run an offense, since the defense can simply collapse into the foul lane to suffocate the big men and stifle cutting lanes.
After Bradley knocked down a jumper, though, he and Rondo were able to carve up the Wizards defense, haphazard as it was. Defensively, they were just as disruptive as expected, slipping quickly into passing lanes while hounding Crawford and John Wall.
"I love playing with Rondo," Bradley said. "Even when I'm not in the game, he's still talking to me, coaching me, showing me what plays to run at certain times and teaching me the game. Them doing things like that, it's big. It shows how much they care for you and how they feel you're part of the team."
Told of Bradley's comments, Rondo seemed surprised and mildly touched, letting out a tongue-in-cheek "Awwww…"
"I consider him kind of a young guy and I try to take him under my wing and give him as much advice as possible," Rondo said. "I don't want to try to act like I'm his [mentor] or anything, but whenever he needs me to share some advice with him, I try to give it to him."
Given their complementary talents, Rondo and Bradley have been quick to develop chemistry on the court. Just don't ask which one is quicker.
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