Bradley, Celtics fall short against Grizzlies, lose 93-83

Bradley, Celtics fall short against Grizzlies, lose 93-83
January 3, 2013, 3:12 am
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BOSTON The long-awaited return of Avery Bradley was one in which the third-year guard delivered a good but not great performance -- the kind that his Celtics brethren have been providing all season.
He had four points in 19 minutes, and his play and defensive intensity were certainly welcomed by the C's and to a certain degree, felt by the Memphis Grizzlies. 
But against a team as good as Memphis is this season, even a solid performance by Bradley wasn't enough as the Grizzlies defeated the C's 93-83.
It was Boston's 12th double-digit loss this season, a scary reality when you consider there's still more than half a season left to play. 
While the Celtics came in well aware that a number of players would have to step up, all eyes - and expectations - were on Bradley who had not played in an NBA game since the Eastern Conference semifinals in May against Philadelphia. 
Since then, Bradley underwent surgery to both shoulders with Wednesday's game being his first this season. 
"Honestly, with him on the floor early on, I thought the whole defense looked pretty good," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers.
Said Bradley: "It felt good to be out there. I'm just trying to play as hard as I can, and I feel like everything's going to be come together as a teanm. I feel like we played hard tonight."
For the Celtics, losers of four in a row, that would indeed be a step in the right direction.
Far too often this season, the C's have looked as though their effort to compete let alone win, wasn't nearly as high as their opponents which has been a factor in most of their losses being of the blowout variety. 
And that to some extent, has had an impact on the team's confidence which seems to fade in and out in most games. 
"It's hard to be confident when you are struggling," said Boston's Paul Pierce who had a team-high 17 points against the Grizzlies. "The good thing about it is we're staying positive about this stretch. It's a tough stretch for us obviously and we know we are going to get through it."
If so, they'll have to find ways to compete for longer stretches of time. Those ebbs and flows are especially problematic in the first half of games which tend to put the C's in catch-mode for the rest of the night. 
On Wednesday, the Celtics fell behind by as many as 18 points before they were able to cut Memphis' lead down to five points following back-to-back 3s by Jason Terry that made it an 83-78 game with 4:52 to play. 
But having dug themselves such a deep hole early proved too much for them to fully come back from as some of the team's most reliable scorers -- like Kevin Garnett -- came up short from the free throw line in the fourth quarter while others failed to knock down pressure-packed shots with the shot clock winding down. 
It was the kind of late-game struggles that you would not expect from a team of veterans, some of whom have won championships both in Boston and elsewhere. 
"We didn't play like a veteran team," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "We played like a really young team that was rushed. And that's what happens when you're not winning games as well."
As the final minutes were played out, the Grizzlies came up with all the big shots and clutch defensive plays to get the victory.
And with the loss, Boston (14-17) extends its losing streak to four in a row. 
And the worst part for the Celtics?
It won't get any easier with Indiana at the Garden and Atlanta on the road Friday and Saturday, respectively. 
While Bradley's presence didn't do much in terms of limiting the Grizzlies shooters, the C's were able to force six turnovers in the first that led to 10 points and maybe most important, the Celtics did something they hadn't done since Christmas -- lead after a quarter of play. 
A driving lay-up by Courtney Lee in the final seconds of the first quarter gave the Celtics a 26-25 lead to end the quarter which snapped a 12 quarter streak in which the C's had to play from behind. 
Boston's slim lead remained on the skinny jean side of things through the early stages of the second quarter. 
As they have done so many times this season, Boston went through a mini-lull offensively and the Celtics defense, even with Bradley, was unable to slow the bleeding as Memphis pulled ahead by six points (39-33) following a 3-pointer by Darrell Arthur.
Arthur's basket was part of a 21-8 run by the Memphis that catapulted them to a comfortable 50-41 halftime lead. 
The third quarter was more of the same as the Grizzlies dominated play at both ends of the floor which fueled them to continue surging ahead and taking a 75-59 lead into the fourth quarter that would prove to be too much for the C's to overcome ... again. 
But going forward, the Celtics will have Bradley back in the mix which in time should help significantly improve their defense and with that, should put a few more W's in the win column for the Green team. 
"He's going to slowly work his way back," Pierce said. "And get his legs in game shape and have a real impact out there for us on both ends of the court. He's been going through a lot, with the surgeries all summer, to finally get a chance in the new year to get back out there, I think he was real anxious and excited to be out there."
Said Bradley: "My main focus is to just go out there and play hard. I feel everything else will work its way out if I just do that."