Late-game execution key in series vs. Sixers


Late-game execution key in series vs. Sixers

BOSTON For years, the Boston Celtics always had the experience card to play in end-of-the-game situations.

As you look at their second round playoff series against Philadelphia, that has become one of a number of should-be Celtic advantages that isn't playing out quite like anyone expected.

The series is tied at 2-2, with Game 5 in Boston on Monday and Game 6 back in Philadelphia on Wednesday.

As much as talk centers around the Sixers playing good enough to potentially be up 3-1 in this series, the C's can counter with the fact that this series would have probably been a Celtics sweep had they delivered the kind of late-game execution a team with their championship pedigree is expected to have at times like this.

The first two games weren't decided until the final moments, and essentially came down to which team could make the big plays needed to win.

In Boston's 92-91 Game 1 win, Kevin Garnett had a season-high 29 points and Rajon Rondo had his eighth playoff triple-double with 13 points, 17 assists and 12 rebounds. In addition, Rondo made a slew of heady plays in the game's closing moments to secure the win.

Philadelphia bounced back with an 82-81 Game 2 win, a game in which they came up with a slew of buzzer-beating shots, second-chance points and played good enough defense that Kevin Garnett was whistled for an illegal screen in the game's final seconds that just about killed any shot of a Celtic comeback.

Boston blew out the Sixers in Game 3 and seemed on their way to a repeat in Game 4. But they allowed Philadelphia to hang around too long, stopped playing with the same kind of energy and fire they had in the first half. And to the credit of the Sixers, they made the C's pay as they closed out the game with a 9-0 run to win, 92-83, to even the series at two games apiece.

So in three of the four games, it came down to which team could do a better job of executing in crunch time.

In two of those three games, Philadelphia - not Boston - was the superior team.

If you go behind the numbers, they only further validate the Sixers in this series as being better in close, down-to-the-wire finishes.

In the final two minutes of the games in which either of these two teams were ahead or behind by five points in this series, the Sixers are shooting 75 percent (6-for-8) which is tops among second-round playoff teams under those conditions while the Celtics (6-for-12) are right behind them at 50 percent.

If you look at the playoffs as a whole, it becomes even more clear that statistically at least, Philadelphia has been the better team when it comes to closing out opponents.

Examining those same conditions - ahead or behind by five points with two minutes to play - the Sixers are 5-1 in the playoffs while the Celtics are just 4-4 according to NBA.comstats.

In addition, Philadelphia has connected on 53.3 percent of its shots under those conditions in the postseason which ranks No. 2 among playoff teams, while the C's and their 36 percent shooting come in at a distant 10th.

There's no need to dwell on the numbers because the Celtics know all too well that they can be better - they have to be better - at closing out games in this series.

Fortunately for the C's, there's still time to change all that.

It begins Monday night in Game 5 which for the Celtics, has been a good time for them.

In the Big Three era, the C's are 7-0 when hosting a playoff Game 5 matchup.

At this point, having previously won in similar situations means little.

This series has been about making the proper adjustments and finding ways to win in a series that has come down to the wire in all but one game.

Normally, that would be a good thing for the Celtics.

As the C's remind us, this is not a normal season - from the lockout-shortened regular season schedule, to the injuries, players out for the season, and yes, late-game execution which for years was a given with this team.

Not now; not in this series.

Bradley continues adapting, improves ball-handling and court vision


Bradley continues adapting, improves ball-handling and court vision

WALTHAM, Mass. – Just like Avery Bradley comes back each season with a new element in his basketball tool box, defenses have adapted to some degree to try and counter whatever Bradley is doing a better job at.

Before it was take away the mid-range shot and make him a 3-point shooter. Now it’s run him off the 3-point line by closing out hard and fast against him.

Well, running him off the 3-point line is actually playing into the hands of two areas of Bradley’s game that have seen significant growth during the offseason: ball-handling and court vision.

Bradley’s improvement in those areas has been evident in the preseason, something the seventh-year guard hopes to continue in the regular season opener on Wednesday against the Brooklyn Nets.

“I worked on my ball-handling a lot,” Bradley said. “Instead of doing all the Kyrie (Irving) stuff that trainers have people do, I tried to focus on just one or two moves, just perfecting a few moves that I can put into my game.”

What we’ve seen from Bradley is better sense of when to attack players with his ball-handling and when to use it as a set-up to get his teammates good shots.

He attributes both to the work he has put in and just becoming an older, more wiser player on the floor.

“I’m able to make plays for my teammates because I’m a lot more confident in my ball-handling, in my play-making and my decision-making," said the 25-year-old Bradley. "I feel a lot more comfortable out there.”

While it may not seem like that big a deal that Bradley’s putting the ball on the floor more and attacking off the dribble, it’s actually really important for this Celtics team.

With Bradley now looking to attack off the dribble more, that means that the Celtics now have a starting five – Isaiah Thomas, Bradley, Jae Crowder, Amir Johnson and Al Horford – with each player comfortable and confident in their ability to take most defenders and their respective positions, off the dribble.

That makes Boston a significantly better team offensively in terms of being highly unpredictable and to a larger degree, tougher to contain.

“He’s a great defender, one of the best in the NBA,” Boston’s Amir Johnson told “But people sleep on his offensive game. He can hit the corner 3s, wing 3s, pull-up jumpers … he can pretty much do it all out there. Now that he’s looking to get to the rim more, that just makes him and our team really, much better.”

Indeed, Bradley sounds as though he plans to continue probing different ways to generate points for the Celtics.

One approach he’ll surely take is to do a better job of taking advantage of the mistakes defenses make against him, like players who try and chase him off the 3-point line.

“Me being  a better 3-point shooter should challenge me to think the game a little more,” he said. “If it’s drawing fouls … I know I should be drawing more fouls from the 3-point line. There are times when people are just running out of control at me at the 3-point line. I have to be smarter.”

Bradley added, “I worked on that this summer. It’s translated in practice, so now it needs to translate in games.”

Bradley supporting Olynyk as he returns from shoulder surgery


Bradley supporting Olynyk as he returns from shoulder surgery

WALTHAM, Mass. – Avery Bradley had just returned to the Boston Celtics lineup after having had surgery on both shoulders, eager to put his injury-riddled days in the past.

Then-Celtics assistant coach Tyronn Lue had suffered a similar shoulder injury a decade earlier in 2003, so he knew all too well what Bradley was going through.

“I remember Tyronn Lue took me to the side and said, ‘you’re going to struggle,’” Bradley recalled. “When he said it to me, I was like, ‘what is he talking about?’”

The words of Lue, now the head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers, were indeed prophetic. And now that current Celtics big man Kelly Olynyk is back to practicing after having surgery on his right shoulder, Bradley plans to be there for Olynyk the way Lue was there for him.

Bradley, who missed the first 30 games of the 2012-2013 season recovering from the injury, recalls struggling with his shot for the first couple of weeks.  

His first game back was Jan. 2, 2013. For the next two weeks, Bradley shot 40.6 percent from the field (28-for-69) and 28.6 percent (8-for-28) on 3s, both below his career averages in those respective categories.

Bradley is hopeful Olynyk doesn’t struggle as much as he did upon his return to the lineup from shoulder surgery.

But just in case, Olynyk knows he has a teammate who literally knows what he’s going through right now in trying to get back on the floor and play good basketball.

“It’s our job as his teammates to help keep him confident in himself,” Bradley said. “I told him, ‘you’re going to have your days when you come in and you might make shots. Then you’ll have your week where you don’t make a shot.’ You just have to stay confident.”

But Bradley admits it’s a lot easier said than done, especially when you’ve had success shooting the ball and now all of a sudden the shots that you normally make in your sleep keep you up at night wondering why they no longer going in.

“It just happens. The muscle memory, you have to get it back,” Bradley said. “It’s just reps; that’s what it took. It took like maybe a good month before my shot felt good again. It’ll probably be the same for Kelly; hopefully not. If it is, I’ll be there to make sure he’s positive and knowing it’s a process and he has to continue to get shots up.”

But there’s more to returning to the game when healthy.

While the body may be ready to go, the mind more often than not hasn’t totally cleansed itself of the injury.

“It’s still in the back of your mind, thinking it’s going to happen again,” Bradley said. “You may not want to drive it to the basket as much or box out the same way or be aggressive. But like I said, we have to give him that confidence and he has to do his work as well, staying in the weight room, making sure he’s strong. We’re here to help.”

And no one is offering the consistent assistance that Bradley has to his injured teammate.

“I’ve taken him to the side like five times already and I told him, ‘I’m here bro. Whatever you need,’” Bradley said. “I’m just happy that he’s back."