BOSTON -- When Avery Bradley stepped into the starting lineup for an injured Ray Allen, questions buzzed as to whether or not Allen should be moved to the bench upon his return.
The Celtics were undefeated in the five games in which Bradley got the nod and the young guard gave them a fresh breath of athleticism and defensive intensity.
So who would help the Celtics more in the starting lineup?
During Allens return on Wednesday against the San Antonio Spurs, Bradley showed he doesnt have to start to be effective. He also demonstrated how challenging the Celtics second unit can be with a starting-caliber player coming off the bench.
It doesnt matter where I come, whether I start or come off the bench or if I dont play, he said following the Spurs 87-86 win. However I can help my team, just coming in and bringing that energy, thats what Im going to do.
Bradley checked in with 3:34 left in the first quarter and finished the night with a game-high 19 points (9-16 FG) in 34 minutes off the bench. He played more minutes than starters Kevin Garnett and Brandon Bass, staying on the court while the Celtics fought back with a smaller guard-centric lineup.
Allen scored five points (2-6 FG), including a key three late in the game, in 35 minutes.
The last five games have built up the confidence of the humble 21-year-old guard who was so nervous as a rookie last season that he hoped he would not be called on to participate in practice.
I understand what Doc wants from me, Bradley said. You dont try to do too much or too little. You just know what they expect and I feel a lot more confident playing my game... I know how to pick my shots, when to shoot, when not to, being aggressive, when not to be. Thats what I try to do.
Celtics head coach Doc Rivers has taken notice of Bradleys application of his advice.
Its what I tried to tell you guys before -- starter or not, hes going to play the same, said Rivers. And he was terrific.
Spurs head coach Greg Popovich also had praise for Bradley, in a different kind of delivery.
Hes a pain in the ass, said Popovich. The game starts and you know what hes going to do. Hes going to cut from the corner to the bucket and lay it in. Hes going to cut diagonally from the top. You know it and you go play... Youve got to give him credit. He knows his role and he does it very, very well. He killed us all night long.
There is the possibility Bradley could return to the starting lineup if Rivers decides to rest his veterans toward the end of the regular season in preparation for the playoffs. Or, Rivers could simply decide to alter the starting lineup. Whatever the role Bradley will be given, he will approach it with the same energy level either way.
After his recent performances, his teammates have come to expect it.
Hes been playing like that the last six or seven games, said Rajon Rondo. So its kind of what were expecting of him. Hes playing big for us and thats what we need him to do.