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 as far as Boston sports), 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, who will most definitely benefit from Bradley's presence on defense. 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

Thomas excited for reunion with Green

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Thomas excited for reunion with Green

WALTHAM, Mass. -- When the phone rang this summer, Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas had to do a double-take when he saw the name on the caller ID.

It was Gerald Green, his ex-teammate in Phoenix.

Although they only shared a locker room for 45 games in Phoenix, the two became quick friends.

On the court they developed instant chemistry while coming off the Suns bench. And that bond spilled off the court as Green would later spend time with Thomas in the Seattle-Tacoma, Wash. area in the summer months.

They were cool with each other, cool enough to where Thomas knew it wasn’t in Green’s nature to pick up the phone and call just to say hi.

“Gerald doesn’t call anybody,” Thomas said. “When he called I knew something was up.”

Green said Boston, the team that drafted him in 2006 straight out of high school, was interested in bringing him back for a second stint with the club.

“I tried to put my two cents in and he got here,” Thomas said.

There were several factors that led Green back to Boston, with a chance to reunite with Thomas being high on that list.

Green, already in Phoenix at the time the Suns signed Thomas in 2014, was impressed with the way the 5-9 guard carried himself.

“He was a genuine guy, came in really humble,” Green said. “I saw the talent was there. I knew he had the potential to be one of the best point guards in this league.”

Thomas certainly made a case for such lofty praise with how he performed last season, good enough to earn his first all-star selection.

What really stuck out to Green was that Thomas’ mentality and approach to the game was almost a carbon copy of his own.

“When we stepped on the court we had the same mentality,” Green said. “By any means necessary, get a bucket and play harder than the next team; just try and push the first team, make the first team better every day.”

Thomas was coming off the bench, showing lots of potential and promise that he could carry a heavier load if given an opportunity to do so.

He averaged 15.2 points, 3.7 assists and 2.4 rebounds in 25.7 minutes off the Suns bench in 46 games. Even more significant was that when Thomas did play for the Suns, they were 26-20.

In the games without him, they were just 13-23.

Green was admittedly disappointed they traded away Thomas, believing that season would have had a very different outcome had they not sent him to Boston.

And just like Green recognized Thomas’ skills and how much his team could have benefited from keeping him around, Thomas speaks in glowing terms about Green and what his return to Boston means for the team.

“We needed someone like him; a guy that could shoot the ball, a guy that could space the floor; instant scorer whether he starts or comes off the bench,” Thomas said. “Where the he starts or come off the bench. He’s going to really help us.”

Green has big game as Bengals dominate Dolphins 22-7

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Green has big game as Bengals dominate Dolphins 22-7

CINCINNATI -- For most of the game, A.J. Green piled up more yards than the entire Miami Dolphins offense in a virtuoso performance. As an encore, he thrilled the crowd by juggling some Florida citrus.

The Bengals receiver followed his disappointing game with a dominating one - 173 yards and a touchdown - and a Cincinnati defense that was inspired by Vontaze Burfict's return clamped down on the Dolphins for a 22-7 victory Thursday night.

The Bengals (2-2) rebounded from a 29-17 home loss to Denver on Sunday with a solid all-around game against a depleted team.

Green led the way, beating the Dolphins (1-3) on every type of route . He was upset with himself after he dropped a pivotal third-down pass and failed to make an impact against the Broncos.

"I hold myself to a very high standard," said Green, who had 10 catches. "I know what I'm capable of. Last week I didn't perform to that level. I had to refocus on a short week."

During the first three quarters, Green had 166 yards on catches while Miami had 152 total yards. The Bengals' season-long problem of stalling out near the goal line forced them to settle for Mike Nugent's season-high five field goals.

Afterward, Green and Andy Dalton appeared on the postgame show, and the receiver entertained the dozens of Bengals fans who stayed around by smoothly juggling three oranges at the interview desk.

"Any time he was one-on-one, he was able to make the play," Dalton said.

The Dolphins were missing four starting offensive linemen, two linebackers, running back Arian Foster and tight end Jordan Cameron. They had one big play - Ryan Tannehill threw a 74-yard touchdown pass to Kenny Stills - but couldn't do anything else on offense.

"We've got to get it fixed and quick, and by that I mean Monday," Tannehill said. "We're kind of in a dark spot right now. It's squarely on our shoulders."

The Bengals' defense expected to get a lift from Burfict's return. The volatile linebacker was suspended by the NFL for the first three games because of his illegal hits. He got a loud ovation when he ran onto the field during introductions wearing a baseball cap. Burfict knocked down a pass and had three tackles.

"He's amazing," end Carlos Dunlap said. "Did you see the plays he made? Those aren't plays you can coach. He came off his couch and played great. It's good to have him back."

Mostly, it was Green's show. He caught a 51-yard pass off Dalton's scramble in the first half, and had a 43-yard catch that set up another field goal in the third quarter for a 19-7 lead.

REMEMBERING FERNANDEZ

A large fan banner in the upper deck at Paul Brown Stadium honored Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez, who died with two friends in a boat crash early Sunday near Miami Beach. The banner read: "Jose 16 Heaven's Bright."

STILL CAN'T RUN

The Bengals rushed for 77 yards and only a 2.1-yard average against the second-worst run defense in the league, one missing two starting linebackers.

SLOPPY DOLPHINS

Miami had seven penalties for 68 yards. The most egregious was by Terrence Fede, who pushed Kevin Huber to the ground after he punted in the third quarter. The penalty gave Cincinnati the ball, and the Bengals got a field goal out of it.

INJURIES

Dolphins: LT Branden Albert and C Anthony Steen were inactive with sprained ankles. Also missing were LBs Koa Misi (neck) and Jelani Jenkins (groin). C Mike Pouncey has missed all four games with a hip injury.

Bengals: TE Tyler Eifert was inactive again, contributing to the Bengals' trouble close to the goal line. He's recovering from offseason ankle surgery and returned to practice on a limited basis last week. CB Dre Kirkpatrick was inactive with a hamstring injury suffered Sunday. G Clint Boling sat out most of the fourth quarter with an injured left shoulder.

ANTHEM STATEMENTS

Stills and Dolphins safety Michael Thomas knelt with their hands over their hearts during the anthem.

FANTASY IMPACT

Tannehill was 15 of 25 for 189 yards with a touchdown, an interception, a fumble and five sacks. Dalton was 22 of 31 for 296 yards with a touchdown and a sack.

UP NEXT

The Dolphins begin a stretch of four straight home games against Tennessee, Pittsburgh, Buffalo and the New York Jets.

The Bengals have a tough two-game stretch, playing Dallas and New England on the road. They're 1-5 in Dallas, dropping their last three. They've dropped their last six at New England, last winning in 1986.