Gortat: Celtics "weaker" this year

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Gortat: Celtics "weaker" this year

BOSTON -- The memories haven't faded for Marcin Gortat. Two years after leaving the Orlando Magic, he still has not forgotten about the heated playoff games against the Boston Celtics.

When he returned to TD Garden on Friday night with the Phoenix Suns, he took all those games with him on the court. And then he dropped a game-high 24 points.

Usually I have great games against Boston, he said following the Suns 79-71 win. Every time Im coming here, it brings those memories from Orlando when we were battling here every year. Three games here, four games at home, or four game here, three at home. End of the year was always Boston. We had to battle these guys to get to the NBA Finals.

Last season, his first with the Suns, he averaged 16 points and 15 rebounds in two games against the Celtics. Fridays 24 points were one short of tying his career-high. He credited his teammates for getting him open and point guard Steve Nash for getting him the ball in the right spots.

I think we just did everything harder than Boston. That was the main thing. We battled, we ran the break, we had a lot of energy, and that was the most important thing, he said, adding, I feel easy to score on everybody with Steve Nash.

After becoming familiar with the Celtics over the years, Gortat noticed some changes in his opponent. Without Kendrick Perkins, he says their defense may be a bit weaker but they have improved their offense. He also noted the bench has several new faces, and he pointed out just that -- their newness to the team.

I think the new additions of the team, I dont think they know all the rotations, he said. Its going to probably take a while before they learn everything.

At the same time, he believes the veteran core are still going strong, especially Kevin Garnett. The only difference is, he is also getting stronger as the seasons go on.

They look great to me, Gortat said of the Celtics trio of Garnett, Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce. I wish to be in KGs shoes. Dont understand me wrong. He has a championship, hes a great player. Theyre going to have up and downs. Theyre not 18 years old anymore or 25. Im entering my prime years, Im 27 right now and obviously its going to be difficult for them to guard me. Im going to put up a lot of energy. Its not like Im a rookie, Im not making stupid mistakes anymore. Its just going to be a good tough game. Im going to compete with those guys.

On Friday night, he made that clear.

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.