Without even playing, Avery Bradley was all over the court Tuesday.
The Boston Celtics are accustomed to Bradley being a ubiquitous presence when he’s healthy, hassling opposing ballhandlers and draining pull-up jump shots. Yet when the Celtics sputtered to a 114-88 defeat to the New York Knicks, in a game that was not as close as the final score indicated, Bradley’s presence — or lack thereof — was evident.
Without Bradley — or the recently traded Courtney Lee — the Celtics have no one to stretch the defense from the perimeter. As a result, Rajon Rondo often has no passing or driving lanes. Jared Sullinger has no room to operate in the deep post. Brandon Bass can’t find an opening in his sweet spot 15-18 feet from the hoop.
Bradley’s absence has been obvious in two of the last three games. In losses to the Oklahoma City Thunder and now the Knicks, Boston’s offense has been as much of a mess as its defense, where Bradley’s contributions have long been appreciated. Jeff Green got beat backdoor by Iman Shumpert twice in the opening minutes and Raymond Felton diced up a hobbling Rondo in the pick and roll. At least one of those players would have been guarded by Bradley, had he been healthy.
Don’t get carried away; Bradley on his own would not have changed the outcome of either the Oklahoma City game or the New York game. Nobody — aside from maybe LeBron James and Kevin Durant — is that good. Brad Stevens was blatantly honest about the Celtics not being a very good team, and that applies with or without their starting two-guard.
At the very least, though, Bradley would have given the Celtics one surefire competitor, an elite defender and a competent scorer. That could have been enough to make the losses a little less ugly.
Playing for the first time in four games, Jerryd Bayless reminded the Celtics what it’s like to have an actual NBA guard available off their bench.
The 25-year-old Arizona product did not appear to be limited against the Knicks, despite missing close to a week and a half with a sprained big toe. He played a little less than 27 minutes as a reserve, scoring 10 points on 4-for-9 shooting and dishing out four assists with one turnover. He gave the Celtics something off the bench for their backcourt, which is more than they had been getting, for the most part.
Bayless will be a welcome re-addition to a group trying to survive without Bradley. Chris Johnson, who inked a new 10-day contract on Tuesday, has become an important piece to Stevens’ guard rotation. While that’s great for Johnson, who had played eight NBA games prior to this season, it’s not great for the Celtics, who have also given out backcourt minutes to former D-Leaguer Vander Blue and leaned heavily on undrafted rookie Phil Pressey.