BOSTON – When it comes to honoring former Celtics players, the standard in recent years has been you had to be part of a championship team.
But there was no way the Celtics were going to let Avery Bradley return to the TD Garden for the first time with his new team, the Detroit Pistons, and not in some way acknowledge what he meant to the franchise during his seven seasons.
Prior to him being announced in the Pistons’ starting lineup, there was a video tribute that lasted about 45 seconds, highlighting many of the big plays he made when he donned a Celtics uniform.
“It meant a lot to me,” said Bradley whose Pistons knocked off the Celtics 1118-108 on Monday. “My seven years here I tried to go out there and compete hard and leave everything out on the floor. For them to show that respect back meant a lot to me. This will always be my second home and I love all the fans in Boston.”
- Stars, studs and duds: Celtics praise 'really good' Pistons
- Stevens: We didn't quite match the Pistons pace
- Smart: Good to get in rhythm but rather have the win
And they love Bradley, evident by the autograph-seekers near the tunnel entrance towards the locker rooms, many of whom came specifically to see Bradley.
To his credit, he took the time to talk with them before the game, take a pictures, sign autographs … do all the things that he did time and time again when he played for the Celtics.
“These fans are the best,” Bradley told NBC Sports Boston in the middle of signing an autograph prior to tip-off.
But as much as Bradley loves the fans in Boston and the organization, this was not a trip of leisure.
He had business to take care of, namely trying to slow down Boston’s Kyrie Irving.
Irving still managed a near double-double of 18 points and nine assists, but Bradley made him work for it which is evident by Irving shooting just 6-for-16 from the field while turning the ball over six times.
The play of Bradley in many ways mirrored the play of the rest of the Pistons.
“Certainly, Avery on the point of attack on defense was great,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “But I thought they (Pistons) were really, really good. They played with great pace, they played with great purpose. They tried to take the ball out of Kyrie’s hands and they did so pretty successfully. So, you know, they were really good; they’ve been really good most of the year.”
And some of that has to do with Bradley who was traded to Detroit for Marcus Morris in July so that the Celtics would have enough cap space to sign Gordon Hayward to the four-year, $127.8 million contract they came to terms on July 4.
For Bradley, he’s with a team that’s clearly on the rise and is currently second in the East record-wise, to the Celtics.
He came into Monday’s game averaging a career-high 16.8 points which in part has been fueled by his ability to get to the free throw line more this year than he has at any point in his career.
Getting better in some facet of his game has been a given every year with Bradley. This season, we’ve seen him attack defenders off the dribble more and in doing so, has resulted in more free throw attempts.
The Celtics saw his growth first-hand on Monday as Bradley made his first three shots while dishing out three assists in the first quarter alone.
The warm reception from the fans.
The chance to see his former teammates as well as various Celtics staff members.
And the victory.
Avery Bradley got all he wanted out of this game.
“It was a great experience for me being able to come back to a place I call my second home, to be able to get the win, but most importantly the way that we played,” Bradley said.
Among the familiar faces he saw was Jaylen Brown who as it turns out, is in the starting lineup at shooting guard – Bradley’s old job with the Celtics.
“I credit a lot of what I’ve been able to do this year, just by watching Avery last year defensively,” Brown told NBC Sports Boston. “Seeing him again, not even in basketball terms, just off the floor. Avery was somebody I could go to and talk to, so seeing Avery again was good. It looks like he’s in good spirits and he played really well.”