Celtics ready for Nuggets adjustments

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Celtics ready for Nuggets adjustments

DENVER When Rajon Rondo went down for the season with a torn right ACL injury, there was a sense of uncertainty as to how the Celtics would play without him -- both among the C's players as well as their opponents.

Losing a player who dictated the team's play the way Rondo did forced a number of players to try to add a little something more to their game to make up for his absence.

Those kind of adjustments often take time to develop.

Nine games later -- eight of which were Celtics wins -- it's clear that the C's figured out quickly how to manage the game and even more important, be successful in doing so.

But this upcoming road trip that begins on Tuesday against the Denver Nuggets, will present the first real challenge of sorts for these new-look Celtics since they have been playing so well.

The first two opponents on this five-game West coast swing -- Denver and the Los Angeles Lakers -- are both teams that Boston defeated during its season-best seven game winning streak.

It will mark the first time since the Rondo injury that the C's will face an opponent for a second time. While it may not seem like that huge a deal, remember that this league is all about adjustments.

The C's have to come into these next couple of games knowing the element of surprise is no longer on their side.

"You're right, this league is all about making adjustments," C's Courtney Lee told CSNNE.com shortly before the All-Star break. "All we're going to be focused on is continuing to play good basketball, play with each other and for each other every minute we're on the court."

But first things first. Boston must put its thoughts squarely on the Nuggets, who came into their previous meeting having won nine in a row, while the C's had won six straight at the time.

The two teams played one of the best games of the season, a thrilling 118-114 triple overtime win for Boston.

A key in the victory was Boston's ability to limit the high-scoring Nuggets to less than a 100 points in regulation.

The Nuggets will surely look for ways to push the tempo more on Tuesday, as well as feed off their home crowd which has helped Denver get off to an impressive 22-3 record, including wins in their last seven at the Pepsi Center.

Boston's Kevin Garnett said he hasn't given much thought to the adjustments the Nuggets will make in this second and final matchup between the two this season.

"Mentally you have to be ready for Denver," Garnett said. "Their pace is incredible, especially at home. We just have to be ready; that's what it is."

Bradley's emergence as vocal leader speaks volumes about growth

Bradley's emergence as vocal leader speaks volumes about growth

BOSTON –  Terry Rozier was having a rough stretch where his minutes were limited and when he did play, he didn’t play particularly well.
 
Among the voices in his ear offering words of encouragement was Avery Bradley who knows all too well what Rozier was going through.
 
For all his time as a Celtic, Bradley has let his work on the floor do the talking for him.
 
But as the most tenured Celtic on the roster, his leadership has to be about more than just getting the job done, but servicing as a vocal leader as well.
 
For a player whose growth from one year to the next has been a constant, being a more vocal leader has been the one dynamic of his game that has improved the most during this past season.
 
And it is that kind of leadership that will carry into the summer what is a pivotal offseason for both Bradley and this Celtics franchise which was eliminated by Cleveland in the Conference finals, the first time the Celtics got that deep in the playoffs since 2012.
 
He is entering the final year of the four-year, $32 million contract he signed in 2014. And it comes at a time when his fellow Tacoma, Wash. native and backcourt mate Isaiah Thomas will likely hit free agency where he’s expected to command a max or near-max contract that would pay him an annual salary in the neighborhood of $30 million.
 
At this point in time, Bradley isn’t giving too much thought to his impending contract status.
 
Instead, he’s more consumed by finding ways to improve his overall game and in doing so, help guide the Celtics to what has to be their focus for next season – a trip to the NBA Finals.
 
While Celtics players have said their focus has always been on advancing as far into the playoffs as possible, it wasn’t until this past season did they actually provide hope and promise that Banner 18 may be closer than you think.
 
It was an emotional time for the Celtics, dealing with the unexpected death of Chyna Thomas, the younger sister of Isaiah Thomas, just hours before Boston’s first playoff game this season.
 
And then there were injuries such as Thomas’ right hip strain that ended his postseason by halftime of Boston’s Eastern Conference finals matchup with Cleveland.
 
But through that pain, we saw the emergence of Bradley in a light we have seldom seen him in as a Celtic.
 
We have seen him play well in the past, but it wasn’t until Thomas’ injury did we see Bradley showcase even more elements of his game that had been overlooked.
 
One of the constant knocks on Bradley has been his ball-handling.
 
And yet there were a number of occasions following Thomas’ playoff-ending injury, where Bradley attacked defenders off the dribble and finished with lay-ups and an occasional dunk in transition.
 
Among players who appeared in at least 12 playoff games this year, only Washington’s John Wall (7.9), Cleveland’s LeBron James (6.8) and Golden State’s Stephen Curry (5.2) averaged more points in transition than Bradley (4.7).
 
Bradley recognized the team needed him to be more assertive, do things that forced him to be more front-and-center which is part of his evolution in Boston as a leader on this team.
 
“It’s weird but players like Al (Horford) definitely helped me get out of my shell and pushed me this year to be more of a vocal leader,” Bradley said.
 
And that talent combined with Bradley doing what he does every offseason – come back significantly better in some facet of his game – speaks to how he’s steadily growing into being a leader whose actions as well as his words are impactful.