Slowly but surely, Avery Bradley will get back to playing his usual 30-plus minutes a night.
Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said Bradley will continue playing with a minutes restriction, but look for his playing time to gradually increase in the coming days.
“It’s a long plan of day-to-day progression,” Stevens told reporters earlier on Friday. “That’s why he’s able to start at 14 or 15 minutes and come in and play the next game at 20, 21 (minutes), today a little bit more … and we’ll go from there.”
Two games into his return from an Achilles injury that kept him out for the previous 18, Bradley has shown no signs of rust.
That feeds into the narrative that Bradley could have played earlier, but the Celtics and their medical staff took an overly cautious approach to getting him back on the floor.
“It was smart of me to listen to them and follow our game plan,” said Bradley, who returned to the lineup after missing four games with the injury and re-aggravated it which led to him missing the next 18 in a row. “The first time I came back it was a miscommunication between all of us. This time I feel good and I’m glad to be back on the court.”
So are the Celtics, who are a different – a better team – with their all-NBA Defensive First Team guard healthy enough to play.
The job he did defensively in the closing minutes against Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving was arguably the difference in Boston pulling out a 103-99 victory.
“He’s the best,” said Bradley, referring to Irving’s ball-handling skills and the challenge he presents to a defender. “I try to make every move hard on him. I tried to force him into a few moves; I was able to do that. He’s still a very good player. It’s definitely hard to guard somebody like that. I feel I like my chances going up against anybody if I’m locked in like that.”
And part of being locked in is being healthy enough to lock up defenders, which is why Boston took its sweet time in bringing him back when they felt he was absolutely ready to play without having any setbacks.
“It’s the right thing to do when you’re coming back from a long-term absence,” Stevens said. “And we need to make sure, especially because it did take a while, that he doesn’t have any setbacks right now.”
This season, Bradley is averaging 17.2 points and 6.6 rebounds while shooting 41.2 percent from 3-point range - all career highs.