Celtics

Avery Bradley will live up to the hype

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Avery Bradley will live up to the hype

One of my favorite things about the New Year is that we all get a much-needed break from lists. From the "Best of" and "Worst of" everything, and the entire Internet cramming a years worth of material into a weeklong string of slide shows.

Although, these days I guess its always slide show season. Theres never a bad time to slap together a list. As we speak, interns everywhere are already hard at work on "The Best Sports Moments in Martin Luther King Day History." Its going to be awesome! But in the meantime, I want to take one more second to quickly reflect on last year. On, without question, one of the most surprising and essential developments of 2012 (at least in the Boston sports world), and one that didnt receive all that much attention during last weeks Year in Review Listravanganza.

The emergence of Avery Bradley.

Its easy to misremember now, but this time last year, Avery Bradley was a bust. He was considered another Danny Ainge swing and miss. Another draft pick that Celtics fans could look back on and say, Yup. They blew it. No wonder this team is screwed.

He was J.R. Giddens.

But today, Bradley is Joe Dumars. AVERY BRADLEY IS A GOD. Hes . . . OK, Im probably understating things a little. But my point is that no one saw this coming no one (at least on the outside) imagined that Bradley would improve as much and as quickly as he did. And over these last two months, weve gotten a glimpse at just how screwed the Celtics would have been if Bradley had continued along the path to one day co-starring with Giddens in Poland.

So what happened? How did we get here? Eh, thats not nearly as important as the fact that we are here. That tonight at the Garden, Bradley rejoins the Celtics line-up for the first time in more than seven months the first time since Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against Philly and has an opportunity to jump start the season; to rescue Boston from the depths of lottery hell and restore the belief that theyre worthy of an eventual rematch with the Heat.

And you know what? I think he's going to do it.

I think that three months from now, we'll look back at tonight's game as the turning point in the Celtics season. As the moment everything started to make sense. Ironically (I think?), I also imagine the Celtics will lose tonight. Certainly if Rondo sits. But that's OK, because Bradley still needs time. No one expects him to take the court against the Grizzlies and pick up right where he left off as one of the most instrumental and perfectly complimentary shooting guards in the entire league.

I'm sure some people will find that last part ridiculous, but those people forget how effective Bradley was down the stretch last season. That over 15 games in April (after officially reclaiming the starting two spot), Bradley averaged 15.1 points a night, shot .520 from the field and .545 from three point land. That more often than not, he was and will continue to be the most dominant defensive player on the floor. That he's egoless, a guy who doesn't need plays run for him, and LOVES moving without the ball. That last season, the Celtics were 20-8 in games started by Bradley and 19-19 when he came off the bench. That even in the playoffs, as Bradley played through two bad shoulders, the Celtics offensive rating was 105.9 with AB on the court and 98.8 with him on the bench. That their defensive rating 90.2 with him on the court and 103.1 with him on the bench. That, bottom line: He makes the Celtics a better team.

He will make the Celtics a better team.

But like I said, we can't expect too much right away. The truth is that Bradley's return to court is not the final step in his recovery from shoulder surgery. It's an essential and incredibly uplifting shift in the right direction, but it's not the end of the road. It will take some time for him to get back in the flow, and grow accustomed to his new teammates. In turn, it will take the Celtics a little time to readjust to having him back in the flow.

But it won't be long until his impact his clear, and the Celtics are far better for his presence. The Celtics as a team, obviously. But also as individuals.

With Bradley, Rondo gets a much-needed break on man-to-man defense, and can focus on what he does best reeking havoc in the passing lanes. Rondo will also (finally) have someone in the starting five who's younger than 35, can get out on the break, and doesn't privately wince before deferring to his authority. On that note, I'm really interested to see what Rondo, Bradley and Jeff Green might do together. If Jeff is willing to run, that group can do some damage.

Then there's KG. Sure, the big guy will still be the glue and the last line of defense, but with Bradley, the Celtics won't have to count on the last line as much as they do now. And on offense, have you noticed that KG's assists are down this year? It hasn't been a monumental drop, but Garnett's 2.7 assists per 36 minutes is his lowest average since his rookie year. And while some of that is surely a result of Doc brainwashing Garnett to shoot more, I think it also stems from guys not cutting to the basket. That when he has the ball in the post, there's often no other option BUT to shoot. Bradley will change that. The entire offense will flow better with his movement. And expect those KG assists to bump up.

And what about Jason Terry? He's been an enormous disappointed over his first two months in Boston, but with Bradley back, he can finally return to the bench, to the sixth man role that the Celtics hired him to fill and that Terry's spent the last four years perfecting.

All in all, I know that there are a lot of people out there trying to warn the masses about putting too much emphasis on Avery Bradley's return. People who don't think there's anyway he can help that much. That the Celtics are in trouble, either way.

But I'm just not one of them.

I'm on the Bradley bandwagon.

In fact, his return is already No. 1 on my list of the most exciting things to happen during the first week of 2013.

The complete slideshow will be posted on Friday.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

For Celtics, winning streak is history in the making

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For Celtics, winning streak is history in the making

BOSTON – Beating the Atlanta Hawks 110-99 on Saturday did more than just pad the win total for the Boston Celtics.
 
It moved them even further up the food chain to what has already been a pretty amazing season.
 
Saturday’s win was their 15th straight, which places them in the penthouse of great Celtics runs of success.
 
Only four other teams in this franchise's storied history have won more consecutive games than this year’s group.
 
Here at NBC Sports Boston, we take a look back at the four teams that are ahead of the Celtics in what has been one of the greatest streaks in franchise history.


 
19 straight wins:  Nov. 15, 2008 – Dec. 23, 2008
 
Fresh off claiming Banner 17, the Celtics were determined to take their place among the all-time great Celtics teams by winning a second straight NBA title. They seemed well on their way with a 15-2 start to the season and of course, their 19-game winning streak. But what turned into a season-ending knee injury suffered by Kevin Garnett later in the year derailed their date with destiny and instead ended with them being upset by the Orlando Magic in the second round of the playoffs , brining a quicker-than-expected end to one of the best regular seasons in franchise history.


 
18 straight wins: Feb. 24, 1982 – March 26, 1982
 
Boston was still considered the best team in the East, although Julius Erving and the Philadelphia 76ers were very much closing the gap. The Celtics dodged a number of close calls during the streak with seven games decided by five points or less, including a 98-97 overtime win at Washington in which the Bullets (now Wizards) went into the fourth quarter with a nine-point lead. The Celtics’ streak eventually came to an end at the hands of the Sixers, which, in hindsight, served as a precursor for Boston losing to Dr. J and the Sixers in the playoffs.


 
17 straight wins: Nov. 28, 1959 – Dec. 30, 1959
 
The Celtics were defending NBA champions and seemingly off to a strong start, only to lose back-to-back games to Philadelphia. While it was still early in the season, they knew they had to quickly right the ship. And they did. During the 17-game winning streak, 12 were by double-digits with only three by five points. The streak ended on New Year’s Day 1960. But by then, the Celtics had re-established their presence atop the NBA landscape and would go on to claim the second of eight straight NBA titles.


 
16 straight wins: Dec. 19, 1964 – Jan. 22, 1965
 
There was little doubt in anyone’s mind that this Celtic team was going to have a special season. They got things going with an 11-0 record right out the gate. And they weren’t just winning games; they were thumping teams with flat-out beatdowns, which is evident by their average margin of victory being by 18.5 points per game. That’s not all that surprising when you consider most of Boston’s core group consisted of players in their prime such as Bill Russell and Tommy Heinsohn. The streak began with a double-digit win over the St. Louis Hawks and would roll along for another couple of weeks. During both the start of the season and the 16-game winning streak, both cemented Boston as the team everyone was chasing. And no one caught them. The Celtics continued to be the dominant force in the league and the season ended with another title, which was the franchise’s seventh straight.

Celtics need to let Morris continue feasting on seconds

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Celtics need to let Morris continue feasting on seconds

It gets harder to find problematic areas when a team wins 15 straight, like the Boston Celtics have.
 
But there are some. Boston’s inability to develop a consistent scoring threat when the second-unit players are on the floor hasn’t cost them a game yet, but you can see it coming if they don’t address this at some point.
 
Well, the answer to their second-unit struggles may be staring them right in the face – Marcus Morris.
 
While he does go back and forth as a starter, keeping him on the floor in the second quarter with the second unit makes sense for all involved.
 
Morris is a better scorer than many expected, but opportunities aren’t as plentiful with the first group. Kyrie Irving and Al Horford are the top two options. The team’s young wings, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, probably stack up slightly higher in the scoring pecking order than Morris.
 
So for him to get quality looks with the second unit in the second quarter not only helps the team offensively, but it keeps Morris even more engaged than he already is.
 
We saw that in Saturday’s win over the Hawks.
 
Morris had 14 points, with 10 coming in the second quarter when he was surrounded primarily with players off the bench.
 
 “We need Marcus quite a bit,” said coach Brad Stevens. “We’re still managing his minutes appropriately as he comes back.”
 
Morris missed the first eight games of the season because of a sore left knee. Since his return, his minutes have been capped at around 25 or less, in addition to not playing back-to-back nights..

But as he continues to play a more significant role, look for his minutes -- and his role as a primary scorer in the second quarter -- to increase.
 
“He brings us scoring," Stevens said. "He brings us defense, he brings us toughness, and we really needed his scoring (against Atlanta), his ability to shoot the ball both off broken plays and off movement.”
 
Here’s a look at five other takeaways from Boston’s 110-99 win at Atlanta to extend the team’s winning streak to 15 in a row which is the fifth-longest streak in franchise history.



 
JAYLEN BROWN'S EMERGENCE

The improvement in Jaylen Brown has been evident all season, but it's really spiked the last two games. The second-year wing player dropped 22 points on Golden State Thursday, then followed that up with a career-high 27 Saturday. Conventional wisdom tells you not to bank on Brown delivering like that on a consistent basis. But as a former No. 3 overall pick who works as hard as Brown does . . . would anyone be surprised if this becomes a new-norm when it comes to Brown?


 
HORFORD STREAK CONTINUES
 
Early foul trouble and an overall lack of flow offensively had Al Horford looking at having his first game of the season with a negative plus/minus. At the half he was at -16. Then came the Celtics’ second half surge which saw them turn a 16-point deficit in the first half into a double-digit victory. And Horford’s plus/minus? For the game he stood at +2, keeping his streak alive of having a positive plus/minus in every game played this season.

KYRIE IRVING
 
An efficient scoring Kyrie Irving is an NBA team’s worst nightmare. One of the league’s well-established scorers, Irving was just too much for the Atlanta Hawks to handle. And the end result was one of the most efficient scoring nights in Irving’s career as he tallied a game-high 30 points on 10-for-12 shooting.


 
TATUM'S SECOND-HALF SURGE
 
For the second straight game, Jayson Tatum did not begin playing his best basketball until the second half. Against the Hawks, Tatum scored all of his 14 points in the second half. And in Thursday’s win over Golden State, 10 of his 12 points came in the second half. “For whatever reason he was pretty tentative (in the first half),” said Stevens. “He’s a good player, so struggles aren’t going to last long. He’ll figure it out.”


 
SMART'S SHOOTING (SLIGHTLY) BETTER
 
There’s plenty of room for improvement when it comes to Marcus Smart’s shooting. Against the Hawks, he had 10 points on 3-for-8 shooting. Now the numbers won’t wow you, but they are a huge step in the right direction in comparison to how he has been chucking up shots lately. In Boston’s previous five games, Smart was a face-cringing 10-for-52 shooting, or 19.2 percent from the field. Even with all the impact he makes consistently with his defense and effort, that number has to continue to improve if Boston is able to continue along its winning ways.

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