WALTHAM, Mass. — Avery Bradley must have left his green-tinted halo at home, because the Celtics’ supposed savior was missing his angelic glow on Tuesday. Bradley has not played competitively since May 18, yet many fans and observers seem to be counting on him to rescue the Celtics from their current slide.
Bradley has heard those folks’ cries for help, but as he prepares to make his season debut Wednesday against the Grizzlies, he has tried to tune them out.
“I try not to worry about it,” Bradley said Tuesday at the Celtics’ practice facility. “All you can do is go out there and play hard. That’s all I know how to do. That’s the only way I know how to play, just go out there and leave everything on the floor, and [Wednesday] that’s what you guys will see.”
Within the team, the expectations for Bradley are tempered by the reality of his injuries and the length of his layoff. Celtics coach Doc Rivers pointed out that even if Bradley completely shuts down one opposing guard, the Celtics would still have four other players to deal with. It also remains to be seen how Bradley’s jump shot, which developed into a semi-reliable weapon in the second half of last season, will be affected by the surgeries on both shoulders and seven months of rehabilitation.
Bradley’s teammates therefore are only cautiously anticipating the contributions he will be able to make in his comeback.
“There’s a lot of things that Avery can bring to the table,” Jared Sullinger said. “It’s just about, is Avery going to have his game legs or not? It’s going to take some time. We’re not going to put very, very high expectations on Avery right this minute. We know he expects highly of himself, so we’ll see what happens.”
Still, Bradley’s return is not without its benefits. Rajon Rondo has carried a heavier load defensively, especially when paired with Jason Terry, in guarding the opponent’s best backcourt player. The energy Rondo has needed to expend defensively has taken a gradual toll, and in the past couple of weeks, he has been a split-second slow in contesting passes that he normally picks off with ease.
Now a bruised thigh has made it even tougher for Rondo to maintain the mobility needed to defend elite guards for a full game. Bradley, who Rondo admits is a superior defender to himself, will ease the starting point guard’s burden while also freeing him up for other defensive responsibilities.
“I’m going to be able to play off the ball a lot more with Avery,” said Rondo, who is questionable for Wednesday’s game. “He’s a better pick and roll defender than me, so that takes a lot of pressure off me, not only defending the pick and roll but also coming down the court, creating plays as well. He plays with a lot of energy. A lot of guys don’t like to face a guy like Avery. I think he’s the best defender in the league, hands down, at the guard position.”
It is funny how drastically things can change. A little more than a year ago, Bradley was fighting to avoid another trip to the D-League. Now he is making the most highly anticipated comeback of the season for the Celtics, even if the reputation that precedes him might be a bit unfair. All things considered, coming off two surgeries and a seven-month layoff, Bradley should not be called upon to be the best perimeter defender in the league again, right away. Yet if that is not quite the Avery Bradley the Celtics expect, that is the one they need.