WASHINGTON – As Avery Bradley limped off the floor in the second quarter of Game 2 against Washington, that “here we go again” feeling engulfed the TD Garden crowd.
So many times - too many times - we have seen Bradley dazzle us with his play and grit, only to go down with a quirky injury that does just enough to keep him off the floor.
The All-NBA Defensive First Teamer from a year ago, missed a team-high 27 regular-season games due to injuries and illnesses this season.
But Game 2 was unlike anything we’ve seen from Bradley.
The 6-foot-2 guard made a point of brushing aside the pain of his right hip pointer, to help deliver a game-changing play that was among the many defensive gems down the stretch of a 129-119 overtime win.
And while he still has some discomfort with the hip, it won’t prevent him from playing in Game 3 on Thursday night, according to coach Brad Stevens.
“He’ll be ready to go,” Stevens said. “I have not been told otherwise.”
Added Bradley: “I’m doing OK. A little sore. I’ll get some treatment; I’ll be fine.”
Bradley has had a career season in several areas, such as scoring (16.3), rebounds (6.1) and assists (2.2) per game.
But he also missed more than a quarter of the season, although he wound up missing more games than necessary due to the Celtics being overly cautious about bringing him back too soon.
The strategy worked, with Bradley playing at the level we saw for most of the regular season at a time when Boston needs the best he has to offer – the playoffs.
“It's all mental,” Bradley said after Game 2. “I just want to go out there and play hard regardless.”
Stevens had Bradley start the third quarter, but he left the game about three minutes in.
“So I didn’t expect him back after that,” Stevens said. “But I’m not a doctor, so they told me he was fine to come back.”
And it didn’t take long for Bradley to show why, despite Boston having a bevy of players who had stepped up their play during the game, Bradley’s ability to impact the game at both ends of the floor was critical to the Celtics finding a way to close out the tightly contested game.
In OT, Bradley picked John Wall’s pocket and coasted in for a dunk to put Boston ahead 120-117 with 2:22 to play, which was part of a 16-7 run.
Wall had 40 points and 13 assists in Game 2, but in OT, with Bradley as the primary defender, Wall missed all three of his shot attempts – all 3-pointers – while picking up one personal foul and committing one turnover.
Despite making big plays at both ends of the floor while dealing with a still-uncomfortable right hip pointer, Bradley was quick to deflect credit for the team’s victory to his teammates.
“I mean personally for me it doesn't really mean much. Those guys like Terry [Rozier] and Jaylen [Brown], to come into the game and play minutes, hard minutes and make plays for our team, that's bigger than me coming back honestly,” Bradley said. “Those guys are young players and they stepped up to the plate and they really helped our team out [in Game 2].”
Those players often talk about trying to follow the lead of their veterans, players like Bradley whose steady play – even while fighting through a tough injury – becomes critical to a team that’s finding different ways to keep on winning.