A Good Day to Try Hard

A Good Day to Try Hard
March 5, 2013, 2:00 pm
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Avery Bradley leaves Friday's game with a bruised collarbone but still expects to play Sunday against the Wizards.

(USA Today Sports)

The last time we saw the Celtics, they were running out the clock in Friday’s impressive win over Golden State. And shortly after the buzzer, Avery Bradley was asked about his match-up with Steph Curry.
As you remember, Curry had come to Boston on an epic tear. He was averaging 46 points in his previous two games; he’d hit 32 of his last 48 shots and 18 of his last 23 three-pointers. Forget Dell Curry, at that point you would’ve claimed that Steph was MJ’s son. (And His Airness would have told you to get in line.)
Anyway, as you remember, Bradley shut him down. He turned Curry’s night into a living hell. Despite playing only 21 minutes due to foul trouble, Bradley spent every second violating Curry in a manner so fierce that he would have been arrested in 48 states.
Curry finished with 25 points, but don’t let the 25 fool you. Seven of those came in the fourth quarter with the game already decided.
More importantly: Steph shot 6-22 from the field and 3-11 from three.
Most importantly: It was an All-NBA Defensive performance by Avery Bradley.
And afterwards, a reporter asked the 22-year-old guard if there was any extra motivation heading into the game. After all, here he was, a young kid trying to establish himself as the best perimeter defender in the league. And suddenly, he’s asked to shut down the most dangerous and locked-in perimeter player in the league. It was a huge opportunity.
So it was fair to wonder, especially in light of all his success, if Bradley had maybe taken the court with an extra chip on his shoulder. If he’d found it a little easier to “get up” for a game which posed such a daunting, yet potentially statement-making challenge.
“I play the same every single game,” he said. “I play as hard as I can when I’m out there on both ends of the court.”
No. No. That wasn’t going to cut it. This wasn’t an “every game” situation. This was no time for clichés. Bradley had just defeated a cyborg. There needed to be more.
So WEEI’s Ben Rohrbach circled back to Bradley and asked one more time:

BR: “How much do you want to shut down a guy who’s coming in off a 54-point performance?
AB: “I want to shut down everybody every single night.”
BR: “But there must have been something in you . . .”
AB: “Nah! If you notice, every game I play the same way. Every single game on the defensive end. That’s just my mindset. That’s how I play. That’s how I always play my whole life.”
It was a great exchange, and when I first saw the video I was instantly inspired by Bradley’s words. By the time he was done, I was ready to run through a brick wall — while screaming “SHUT DOWN EVERYBODY!!” — and conquer every fear in the world.
What Bradley said is exactly the kind of thing we want to hear from athletes. It’s exactly why he’s so quickly established himself as one of the most likable players in this city. And it’s not only because he says stuff like: “I play every game the same way.” It’s because he lives it. Bradley literally busts his ass every night, regardless of the opponent. As sports fans, we love that.
But with that love, comes a somewhat depressing question: Why doesn’t everyone play hard?
Should it really be a big deal that Avery Bradley gives 100 percent every time he takes the floor?

That’s straight out of the Chris Rock bit:
“Well, I try my hardest EVERY game!”
“ . . . That’s what you’re supposed to do!”
It’s true. But still, why is it that guys like Bradley feel like such a rarity these days?
In the big picture of Boston sports, I think that has a lot to do with the Red Sox, and the cloud of “not giving a crap” that’s hovered over Fenway these past two years.
Looking more specifically at the Celtics, I don’t want to put it all on Rondo, but he’s a major factor.
Think about it: We’ve spent the better part of the last three seasons trying to predict Rondo’s effort level based on nightly match-ups. We’ve come to know that he plays better, and seems to try harder, when there will be higher TV ratings.
Because of how great he is when the whole country’s watching, we generally forgive him for the way he acts when it’s just Boston, when he’s playing the Bobcats, or some other sorry team in a half empty arena. And over time, we’ve just accepted the fact that not everyone gives 100 percent every game.
It’s tough. But what can you do?
And it’s not like Rondo was alone. Chris Forsberg wrote a great story on Sunday about Chris Wilcox’s turbulent season in Boston. He talks about Wilcox’s return from heart surgery — which hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves considering it was the same thing that Jeff Green went through, except that Wilcox had two fewer months to rehab. Jessica Camerato has more here.
Forsberg also talks about Wilcox struggling through early season injuries, losing minutes, slacking on defense and falling out of favor with Doc. In fact, it got so bad that at the deadline, the Celtics were more eager to trade Wilcox than they were Jason Collins. Jason Collins!
But Wilcox used a clause in the CBA to block the trade to Washington. At that point, he met with Danny and Doc, and told them he’s ready to do whatever it takes to be a part of the team.
And you can’t argue with the results.
Forsberg notes: “Over the four games since the deadline, Wilcox has responded by averaging 6.5 points on super-efficient 76.5 percent shooting along with 4.5 rebounds over 20 minutes per game. The Celtics -- 3-1 in that span -- are plus-28 with Wilcox on the floor in that stretch, and his impact is further reflected in solid numbers in both offensive (116.6) and defensive (95.4) ratings (points allowed per 100 possessions) when he's on the floor.”
And here’s what the Celtics are saying:
Doc Rivers: “Since we made the trade, I think Chris has been pretty good. He's playing with great effort, he's running the floor, setting picks. He's been good for us."
Wilcox: “They took a chance on me, bringing me back after the trade deadline, so I just wanted to come out and play hard.”
Both guys are basically saying the same thing: Chris Wilcox wasn’t giving 100 percent.
And believe me, I understand where his head was at earlier this year. In many ways, basketball is like any job. You work for a company. You have to deal with decisions that you don’t agree. Sometimes, it’s easy to get bitter, just say screw it and not give 100 percent.
But that doesn’t change the fact that Wilcox wasn’t all there. That even though effort is the one thing that everyone can provide and should never serve as an excuse; often times, with many players, that’s exactly what it is.
But it’s never that way with Avery Bradley. He's a special brand of athlete (like Kevin Garnett) that’s able to achieve a seemingly easy task: Unconditional effort.
And as the Celtics move along on this inevitable rebuilding process, we can only hope that they’ll do so around guys who are ready and willing to follow Bradley's lead.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter @rich_levine.