Rivers' dilemma: Better to start Allen or Bradley?

Rivers' dilemma: Better to start Allen or Bradley?
April 2, 2012, 7:24 pm
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BOSTON Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers has a dilemma of sorts on his hands now.

Ray Allen, who has missed the Celtics' last six games with a right ankle injury, is going to be healthy enough to play soon.

His replacement, Avery Bradley, seems to be getting better and more comfortable with every start.

So what does Rivers do? Put Allen back in the starting lineup when he returns, or stick with the strong play of Bradley with the first unit?

When you look at Rivers' reluctance to make any changes involving the Big Four, it would seem as though Allen's place with the starting unit is secure, right?

Not really.

Rivers acknowledged following Boston's 91-72 blowout win over Miami on Sunday that he has not made his mind up about which of the two will start when Allen returns to the lineup.

This season, the Celtics are 10-1 without Allen in the lineup, and 20-21 with him.

"We're playing well, but we've also played well with Ray, by the way," Rivers said. "I think people forget that part. The good thing is that we have options. And we have players with confidence; we have a lot of them."

The emergence of Bradley as a starter speaks to his growth this season into one of the NBA's most improved players.

He doesn't shoot the ball nearly as well as Allen, but his ability to defend seems to fit in well with the C's and their defensive mindset.

And with him now cutting to the basket often -- and Rondo finding him -- he's no longer an offensive liability when he's on the floor.

Bradley filled in for Rajon Rondo earlier this season, and the Celtics were successful.

But this stint in place of Allen has been different.

As Rondo's replacement, Bradley often deferred the play-making duties to Paul Pierce.

But in place of Allen, Bradley's clearly more comfortable at the off-guard position. And his defense, combined with Rondo's instincts for forcing turnovers by getting into passing lanes, has given the Celtics the kind of defensive-minded backcourt that the C's have not had under Rivers.

To his credit, Bradley has avoided making his newfound status with the Celtics an issue, maintaining that he plans to continue playing hard whether he's starting or coming off the bench.

"The veterans on this team have taught me so much since I've been here," Bradley told CSNNE.com. "It doesn't matter if I'm in the game at the start or coming off the bench. I just have to make sure I'm always ready to play, and when I do play, I'm helping my team win."

While Bradley has certainly played well enough to warrant the starting nod when Allen returns, folks have to remember that Allen's best play typically comes this time of year.

Bradley's defensive prowess has been impressive, but playoff games often come down to one or two big shots -- Ray Allen's specialty.

Whichever way Rivers decides to go, one thing is clear: The Celtics bench will get a boost with the addition of either player.

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