BOSTON - The Celtics weren’t looking to make excuses after their elimination from the playoffs Thursday night.
That said, there had to be a pretty big “if” going around the locker room throughout the series. There certainly was among Celtics fans.
If . . . Avery Bradley was healthy, the Celtics may have won the series.
Health as a whole was a big problem for the Celtics. Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, and Kelly Olynyk were all banged up.
But Bradley injuring his hamstring in Game 1 greatly changed the series, taking away Boston’s best on-ball defender (and one of the league’s best on-ball defenders). Bradley could also be counted on to hit the outside shot, opening up the floor for teammate Isaiah Thomas.
Without Bradley, the Celtics were forced to bring Evan Turner off the bench to start in his place. That took away the bench’s best offensive weapon.
Not having Bradley isn’t the only reason the Celtics lost the series, but it has to be considered a big factor.
“Yeah that hurt us a little bit. That’s a key part of what we’re about,” Jae Crowder said. “We tried to fight through it and the next guy tried to step up. But of course we missed him. We missed him a lot and we missed what he brings to the team. It sucks that it happens, but injuries are a part of it. He had one that he couldn’t fight through and we just tried to step up for him. But at this time of the season, a lot of guys hurt, and his was so unfortunate for us that it kept him out and it hurt us.”
The Celtics’ loss was the Hawks’ gain. Guys like Kyle Korver were able to get free easier at times. Korver averaged 12.2 points per game and made three three-pointers a game (shooting 45-percent from the three-point line, five percentage points higher than in the regular season). Korver is well aware how important Bradley is to the Celtics.
“He’s a really good player. It’s been incredible to watch his offense catch up to his defense,” Korver said. “When he has it going I look at him as a great shooter. He’s so quick on the dribble handoffs and they run a lot of stuff for him. He’s really improved as a shooter and obviously his defense has always been great. It’s unfortunate that he got hurt, it does feel like they have a lot of guys similar to him; feels like they draft a new one every year. He’s a really good player and that definitely hurt them.”
It had to be tough for Bradley to watch from the bench as his team struggled, but that will hopefully only make him hungrier to win next season, with perhaps another former Texas Longhorn by his side in the starting lineup.