BOSTON – The decision was made to tack on a few extra minutes to Avery Bradley’s allotted court time on Wednesday night.
And did it ever come in handy.
Because for all that Boston did well in keeping pace with the Cleveland Cavaliers, it was Bradley’s defense and timely shot-making in the closing minutes that ultimately lifted Boston to a 103-99 victory over the defending NBA champions.
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The victory snapped Boston’s three-game losing streak to Cleveland, in addition to bringing the Celtics (39-22) within three games of the East-leading Cavs (41-18).
Boston lost the previous two games to Cleveland by six points each, and this one had the makings of yet another nail-biting loss until Bradley re-entered the game with 3:28 to play and the Celtics trailing 92-90.
While fans were surprised to see him re-enter the game, his teammates were not.
“Once he got in, he did his thing,” Amir Johnson told CSNNE.com after the game. “He got a couple stops, shut down Kyrie and at the end, we needed him.”
Celtics coach Brad Stevens said the plan all along was to bring Bradley back on the floor for the final few minutes of play.
“It’s why we played him eighteen minutes (prior to returning in the fourth quarter),” Stevens said. “I was told somewhere between 22 and 23 max, and … we saved him as long as we could.”
Bradley went nearly 15 minutes of game time sitting on the bench before he got a chance to get back on the floor in the fourth quarter.
“Mentally I was prepared,” Bradley said. “I was trying to stay warm on the sideline. I just knew once I got the opportunity to go back out there I was going to play as hard as I can and make sure I was focused.”
That focus at both ends of the floor would prove critical to Boston beating the best team in the East.
“That’s what he does,” said Isaiah Thomas. “He defends, he hits shots and we need him to do that. He was a big key in (the) win.”
Bradley’s job was to make life as tough as possible in the closing seconds on Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving who had 24 points on 9-for-15 shooting when Bradley entered the game.
Irving missed three of his four shot attempts and scored just four more points after Bradley re-entered the game in the fourth.
In addition to his defense, Bradley also drained a 3-pointer with 1:09 to play that put Boston on top, 96-94.
“We’ve been missing that for like two months,” Boston’s Kelly Olynyk told CSNNE.com. “I was really happy for him to get back there and not only make big shots but get down on the defensive end and do what he does best.”
Boston’s Jonas Jerebko echoed similar sentiments about Bradley.
“Avery’s a great player, a big part of our team at both ends of the floor,” Jerebko told CSNNE.com. “That’s what he does for us.”