MINNEAPOLIS — For the last five games, the Celtics have drawn up plays with the goal to get their first points of the game from Avery Bradley.
In the midst of his worst shooting slump as a pro, Bradley drained a 19-footer just 17 seconds into Monday's game against Minnesota, the first points of a solid 19-point night for Bradley. It was a good game for the 6-foot-2 guard, but not good enough to lead the C's to victory as they fell 110-100 to the Timberwolves.
Not only was the 19 points scored one of Bradley's best scoring nights of the season, but it was his first double-digit scoring game since March 16 against Charlotte.
"It was good to see some shots go in," Bradley said. "Unfortunately, we still lost."
Indeed it was yet another disappointing loss for the C's who were playing without Paul Pierce (personal matter) as well as Kevin Garnett (inflammation, left foot) for the first time this season.
With key players out, Celtics coach Doc Rivers puts losses like Monday's defeat in perspective. A victory would have been nice, but playing without two players as important as Pierce and Garnett -- even against the Timberwolves -- increases the degree of difficulty of winning.
So Rivers had little choice but to extract whatever positives -- and there were a few -- that he could from what was the last non-conference game for the C's this season. And the scoring of Bradley was indeed something that the C's can hopefully build on throughout the remainder of the regular season and in the playoffs.
But big scoring games mean little. The challenge for Bradley is to become more consistent offensively, which is much easier said than done when you consider how well he plays defensively. Still, he has to become a player the C's can count on to knock down open shots because when he's on the floor with the likes of Pierce and Garnett (and even Jeff Green to a certain extent), relatively wide open looks are going to be there for Bradley to take. They were certainly there against the Timberwolves, which led to Bradley knocking down eight of his 14 shots from the field.
Bradley prides himself on playing great defense, but he understands better than most how important it is for him to become a reliable scorer, too. That's why the last few games have been difficult to stomach for Bradley, well aware that his offensive struggles have been part of the C's having dropped seven of their last nine games.
"I feel like for anybody, when you're not making shots, you're not able to help your team out, it's hard," Bradley said. "It was hard for me because I didn't feel like I was performing well for my teammates."
In those nine games, Bradley averaged 7.4 points while shooting 32.9 percent from the field -- both below his season average.
Rivers is hoping Monday's strong showing offensively by Bradley will be something he can build on moving forward.
"I told him after the game, his arc was back on his shot. It wasn't flat, so that was good to see," Rivers said. "I think that will make him a better defender, too. He'll be able to relax."
Regardless of whether his shot was falling or not, Bradley's effort on a nightly basis is not in question. But scoring performances such as the one he had on Monday do provide a much-needed confidence boost for Bradley that reminds him that the C's need him to be more than just a defender.
"I'm just going to continue to play hard," Bradley said. "Whether I'm making shots or not. That's all I can do."