Bradley earning defensive anchor label with Celtics

Bradley earning defensive anchor label with Celtics
March 4, 2013, 7:15 pm
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WALTHAM, Mass. — For years, Kevin Garnett has been the undisputed leader of a Boston Celtics defense that has ranked among the NBA's best.

But like every great leader, the torch of power will be passed.

And that time appears to be sooner rather than later, with Avery Bradley slowly but surely establishing himself as the face of the Celtics defense.

There's plenty of data that suggests Bradley's defense has been the single most important change in the Celtics defense.

Prior to his first game of the season with the Celtics on Jan. 2, Boston was two games below .500 (14-16) and had a defense that ranked in 19th in field goal percentage defense and 15th in points allowed per game (96.1).

Since Bradley's return on Jan. 2, Boston is now four games over .500 (31-27) and has allowed opponents to shoot 42.2 percent from the field which is the second-lowest mark in the NBA in that span.

In addition, opponents have averaged 90.6 points against the C's which is the fourth-lowest average since Bradley's Jan. 2 return.

And while the C's have been able to collectively get it done defensively, there's no denying who has been at the heart of their improvement.

"Avery is everything to our defense," Garnett said. "He's the anchor, if you will. He's the true inspiration of what it is. He's up on the ball like 95-, 90-percent of the time. Any other guard in the league ... nobody's playing defense like he is. He's tenacious. He's the silent leader who leads by example."

Golden State head coach Mark Jackson is among those who sees Bradley as one of the game's best defenders.

"He gets after it," Jackson said. "He's disruptive. The thing you love about him, he knows exactly who he is."

And that is a lock-down defender who can cause problems against even the most proficient scorers.

Leading up to Boston's 94-86 win over Golden State on Friday, there was not a hotter player in the NBA than Warriors guard Stephen Curry who had averaged 46 points in his previous two games.

With Bradley spending most of the game defending him, Curry had 25 points but needed 22 shots (16 of which he missed) to get it.

"He changes the game," Jackson said. "He's very disruptive defensively. He's attacking, he's picking up. He's forcing the issue. He makes them better."

And while Bradley has certainly established himself as an impact player for the C's, Garnett still believes that Bradley's best days are ahead of him.

"He's still a student of the game," Garnett said. "He's still young; he's still learning."

And apparently still on the mend.

While Bradley's shoulder injuries haven't posed any kind of major issue since his return, it's unlikely that he will be at full strength until next season.

"I think he's 100 percent, leg-wise," said Celtics head coach Doc Rivers. "As far as his shoulders, I don't know. I can say he will not be 100 percent until next year with that."

Garnett is also convinced that Bradley's not completely healthy now, "which is scary" Garnett said.

"I think he's still working through some things with his past injuries and stuff, but he's playing hard and he's giving us everything he has when he's on the floor," Garnett added.

And while he's starting to become more of a factor offensively with his shot-making, Bradley's bread and butter in this league remains his defense.

And it is that defense that makes him not only stand out when he steps on the floor, but also within the C's locker room.

"Avery's example of leadership is by doing," Garnett said. "He leads by example. He sets the tone for us defensively right now. He's playing with a lot of confidence."

And his greatest impact continues to come on defense which in itself makes him somewhat of an oddity among young NBA players.

"He's unique," Rivers acknowledged. "It sets him apart in a lot of ways. There's probably a lot of guys who can do it. But there's very few who want to, and that's the key part. He enjoys it. He enjoys the defensive assignments. He's looking forward to matchups. That's a guy who understands who he is. That's a good sign."