BOSTON – Coming into Game 5, Avery Bradley was not, physically speaking, at the top of his game.
He had suffered hip pointer injuries to both his right and left hips earlier in this series.
Then there was Washington’s John Wall, always a handful, who outplayed Bradley badly in Games 3 and 4.
Isaiah Thomas, who has known Bradley since the two were pre-teens in Tacoma, Washington, could sense that his friend and backcourt mate was in need of a quick pick-me-up prior to Game 5.
“I told him before the game, ‘I believe in him,’” Thomas recalled. “He’s going to have a big game, and he did.”
Indeed, Thomas’ faith in Bradley was rewarded with a performance that topped anything the 6-foot-2 guard had ever done before at the TD Garden.
Bradley’s career playoff-high 29 points, the most he has scored in a home game with the Celtics, was among the many keys to Boston’s 123-101 Game 5 win over the Washington Wizards.
Boston now leads the best-of-seven series, 3-2, with a chance to advance to the Eastern Conference finals with a win at Washington on Friday.
And while there was plenty of praise to go around for Celtics players, all agreed that the play of Bradley was special.
“My mindset was just to come out and be aggressive,” said Bradley, who had a career playoff-high (25 points) by halftime. “I wanted to make those guys work on both ends of the floor.”
By keeping their turnovers low, Boston forced Washington to defend them in the half court most of the game, which is where Bradley’s precise cuts to the rim for lay-ups or racing to the corner following a nice, solid screen being set, all culminated with Bradley having the playoff game of his life.
And if anyone was due for a big game, it was Bradley.
After having a breakout season in which he averaged a career-high 16.3 points per game, he was limited in the two road games at Washington to just 12 points total in Games 3 and 4.
“I knew that I haven’t been playing to my ability on the offensive end the last two games,” Bradley said. “And for this team I wanted to bring my all. I wanted to take open shots that were there and make plays for guys and that is what I tried to do tonight.”
Said Wizards coach Scott Brooks: “Avery was terrific, 25 points, 10-for-13 (shooting) in the first half. Avery was on fire, Al (Horford) was terrific. We had no answer for those guys. We did a good job on their best player (Thomas) but not enough on the other guys.”
And while the play of Bradley certainly drew a large share of praise afterward, Thomas knows what we all saw in Game 5 wasn’t just Bradley having a great game.
It was a performance that shined a brighter light on the talent and promise that Bradley has within him, to be an elite two-way player that can elevate his play when it is necessary.
Making it even more impressive was he did it with a pair of sore hips.
“He played like he was supposed to,” Thomas said. “He played through it. We needed him to play that way. He put his injuries aside and laced his shoes up and played. He was the key to this game. At both ends of the floor, offensively, defensively, he did it all. In Game 6, we’re going to need him.”