Bradley, Lee picking up slack for Celtics

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Bradley, Lee picking up slack for Celtics

LOS ANGELES When Rajon Rondo was on the floor, there was no question that he was the Celtics' floor leader.

Besides having the ball in his hand more than anyone else, often his play at both ends of the floor would set the tone as to how the Celtics would play.

With him out of the mix, the ability of Courtney Lee and Avery Bradley to fill that void has been one of the more overlooked aspects of the C's strong play as they have put together wins in eight of their last 10 games.

"It's not said but, simultaneously and kind of inadvertently, we're following their lead," said Boston's Kevin Garnett. "Those two have been very good for us."

In Boston's 97-90 loss at Denver on Tuesday, it was their play at both ends of the floor that kept the Celtics in the game when the team's usual 1-2 punch -- Garnett and Paul Pierce -- struggled to make the kind of impact the C's are accustomed to.

And with tonight's game against the Los Angeles Lakers being a back-to-back, the C's may once again need strong games from players besides their two future Hall of Famers.

For a team that prides itself on its defense, having Lee and Bradley start games is about as ideal a scenario for the Celtics.

But as important as it is for them to play strong defensively, Celtics coach Doc Rivers needs them to provide more in order for the C's to be successful.

Against the Nuggets on Tuesday, the C's took a 50-49 lead into the half. Bradley and Lee accounted for 24 of the Celtics' first-half points which included a jumper by Lee with just before the halftime horn sounded.

"We need that on this trip and the rest of the season," Rivers said.

Prior to the all-star break, Rivers said he spoke with both players as to what he expected from them once they returned.

"We have to be a little more aggressive for them in pick-and-rolls and attacking the basket," Rivers said. "They were pretty good."

But their success will still be predicated in large part by the play of Pierce and Garnett.

"When you got KG and you got Paul, they're going to draw a lot of attention," Lee said. "So when they get the ball, they draw doubles. And then me and Avery are open."

And when they are open, their ability to knock down open shots or drive to the basket has created another means in which the C's can generate offense.

Both have managed to strike a balance between being more aggressive while still finding ways to continue playing off of the team's two core guys.

"It's not hard at all," Lee said. "We know that those are our go-to guys. For us to get open and get the best looks, we have to go through them. They're good players, they're both unselfish and they're going to make the right plays as far as find the open man."

For Garnett, it has been refreshing to see the work each has put in their game, pay off both individually and for the Celtics.

"I'm proud of those two," Garnett said. "They've worked really, really hard to get to where they are. They've been busting their ass night-in, night-out. You have to tip your hat, try to continue to encourage them."

Jaylen Brown may be the future of Celtics, but he's focused on now

Jaylen Brown may be the future of Celtics, but he's focused on now

BOSTON – This is not how this is supposed to work.

When the regular season ends for high draft picks, there’s usually a nice, warm island awaiting their arrival in late-April when the regular season ends.

But this was no typical rookie season for Boston’s Jaylen Brown.

And as we have seen, Brown isn’t your typical rookie.

Drafted with the third overall pick in last June’s NBA draft, the 6-foot-7 Brown found himself in the rotation on a Celtics team that advanced all the way to the Eastern Conference finals before having their season end at the hands of the defending NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers.

The path towards individual and team success is littered with struggles and potholes of strife along with the pain of disappointment cluttering up things as well.

From within that rubble lies promise; the kind that has Celtics Nation justifiably excited about the future of Brown with the Celtics.

But Brown isn’t about the future, folks.

“I’m excited about the now,” he said. “I’m excited about this summer. I try not to look too far ahead. Everybody talks about the future and how much potential we have; I’m worried about the now. I want to be part of the now. That’s all I’m focused on.”

That kind of focus is among the many reasons that despite being a rookie, his teammates quickly sensed that the now-20-year-old had his sights set on not just talking about cracking the rotation but actually putting in the work that would leave head coach Brad Stevens no choice but to play him.

“He’s going to be really good,” said Boston’s Gerald Green. “If he keeps his same mentality; he’s humble. And continue to work on his game and continue to learn.

Green added, “he couldn’t be in a better place, than being here. With his talent and his work ethic, he’s going to be great.”

But like most rookies, Brown’s play was anything but a steady on-the-rise movement.

His first NBA start came on the road at Cleveland on Nov. 3.

Boston lost the game, but Brown won over many with his career-high 19 points while spending a good deal of the night guarding LeBron James.

In his next four games, Brown scored a total of just 17 points.

And in Boston’s first-round series with Chicago, Brown's role shrunk in the last four games – all Celtics wins. In those games, he played a total of just under 10 minutes.

So what did he do?

He got back in the gym, continued to work on his game and do a better job at making the most of the minutes he received.

More than anything else, Brown attributes his improved play as the season progressed to simply figuring out the NBA landscape as far as what he could do and what he needed to work on, to get better.

Which is why there are many who believe that Brown will be a much better player than the one we saw this season.

That said, he still had decent numbers – 6.6 points and 2.8 rebounds while shooting 45.4 percent from the field and 34.1 percent from 3-point range.

“I didn’t know what I was getting myself into, coming into the NBA,” Brown said. “Throughout the year, I don’t think people expected me to contribute as much as I did. Now just getting to the Eastern  Conference finals and losing, it builds a hunger you know;  I have a bad taste in my mouth. Gotta put in work during the offseason and come back stronger.”

Like Brown, Al Horford came into the NBA as a high draft pick who wound up in the playoffs that rookie season.

Horford can totally relate to Brown’s comments about not knowing what he was getting into.

“The first year you’re really feeling everything out,” Horford said. “Jaylen has an understanding now of what the league is about. It’s a lot for a rookie to handle. Now he has a better idea (so) he can just focus on getting better, working on his game and I expect him to be much better his second year.”

Brown will have the knowledge gained from being part of a team that came within three wins of getting to the NBA Finals.

To come that close is tough to accept, but Brown sees it all as part of a bigger plan for him and his role with the Celtics moving forward.

“I can use it as fuel. I’ve been learning all year,” Brown said. “I’ve had ups, I’ve had downs, I’ve had opportunities, I’ve had mistakes. So I’ve been learning and growing and improving all year and I’m going to continue to grow and improve and prove people wrong, prove doubters wrong.”

And that process Brown speaks of has certainly been aided by being in a successful situation like Boston compared to some other lottery picks who saw lots of playing time but showed minimal growth playing lots of minutes.

“Being on a winning team and developing good habits, learning how to win, play the game the right way … learning that at a young age is really going to help me,” Brown said. “A lot of young guys, they don’t learn that early. They have to figure it out three, four, five years in. I’m happy I learned it now.”

And while the learning will continue on for Brown during this offseason, it won’t be nearly as tough now than it was when he came into the league.

“I know exactly what I’m preparing for,” Brown said. “I expect a really different result.”

Brown added, “I want to be ready for whatever is thrown at me; no excuses whatsoever.”

Now that’s how this is supposed to work!