Celtics' Bradley overcoming bumps in road to recovery

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Celtics' Bradley overcoming bumps in road to recovery

Avery Bradley sat at the head of his bed and began his nightly routine. He carefully piled pillows around himself, making sure not to overextend his reach and cause any pain. Stacking one on top of the other, he strategically surrounded his body with a "fort," as he described it, until he was securely blocked in on both sides. Still sitting in the upright position, Bradley pressed his back against the wall and closed his eyes for a good night's rest, or as good as it was going to get.

"That was the hardest part for me," he said. "It sucked."

Bradley underwent double shoulder surgery this year, first a season-ending procedure on his left shoulder in May and another operation on his right shoulder in July. He knew the road to recovery would be a long one -- there is still no definitive timetable set for his return -- but he didn't know all of the bumps he would encounter along the way.

He also didn't realize all he would learn from being apart from the game.

Last Spring Bradley was riding the momentum of a breakout season with the Boston Celtics. After a rookie year in which he saw minimal playing time while battling through shyness around his veteran teammates, Bradley had earned the starting shooting guard role in place of Ray Allen. Lauded for his defensive toughness, he offered the team a glimpse into a future of a young, athletic backcourt with him and point guard Rajon Rondo.

During the 2012 playoffs, though, Bradley began suffering nagging shoulder injuries that plagued him as the Celtics title hunt continued. The 21-year-old guard was shut down after only 10 playoff games.

His first procedure was just as emotionally painful as it was physically. A tenacious competitor on the court, Bradley found it too difficult to watch his team from the sidelines.

"It was really hard not being able to play while they were playing Miami (in the Eastern Conference Finals)," said Bradley. "I didn't come to any games because I couldn't handle it yet."

The Celtics lost to the Heat in Game 7 of the series and began rebuilding their team for the 2012-13 season. Bradley made it a priority to do the same for himself. It wouldn't be without hardships, though.

After living on his own for nearly two NBA seasons, Bradley found himself back in Seattle, Washington with his family. He bandaged his shoulders -- "It's taken skin away because I had them on there for so many days," he said -- and alternated resting one arm in a sling at a time throughout the day.

There were points in the recovery when everyday activities were off limits. Bradley was unable to turn a steering wheel.  As a result, he had to depend on his mother and girlfriend for rides. Even typing on a laptop was ruled out. When it came to being around people, Bradley had to stay away from large groups out of concern of being bumped in his shoulders.

"They hurt so bad," he said.

Bradley had two options. He could either spend the coming months pitying himself over lost playing opportunities, or he could use the time to enhance his game for his return. He didn't become a key member of a championship contender by being a person who would choose option A.

The young guard embraced an even deeper sense of focus. There was a purpose to his injuries, he decided. He never learned the Celtics system in Summer League nor did he ever have the full training camp experience. Bradley had rehabbed from ankle surgery prior to his rookie season and this time he was recovering with a new perspective.

"I was so focused on this year," he said. "I was like, 'OK, this year (2012 season) is over.' I wanted my team to do well, but all I could do was control next year. For me to be prepared for next year, I had to do everything the doctors and (Celtics athletic trainer) Ed (Lacerte) were telling me to do. That was my main thing."

Unable to do many physical activities with his upper body, Bradley focused on the mental approach to the game. He studied film -- a lot of game film -- after watching Rondo do the same over the years. Soon he began seeing the court differently, comparing the realization to solving a Magic Eye puzzle. By shifting the way he watched the action, he opened his eyes to a completely different point of view.

"There were some of those things (head coach) Doc (Rivers) would yell at us about," Bradley said. "He would look at us like, 'Are you serious? You don't see that? You don't see what I see?' We'd be like, 'No, we don't.'

"Now I see those things and I look at people that way, like, 'Why aren't you doing things that way?' I look at the game completely different, it's weird. It's like once you know the plays and you feel comfortable, you know all the other teams' sets, it's like you know everything and it's just easier. I know Paul (Pierce) and them can say the same thing, too."

Bradley constantly reminded himself his recovery was an opportunity to focus on all facets of his game. He had played in less than 100 regular season contests over his first two years and with practice time at a premium during the lockout-condensed 2012 season, there was never a lengthy stretch of time to hone in on areas of improvements.

And the ambitious Bradley has a long list of ways he would like to further himself as an all-around player.

"I want to be a stronger ball handler," he said. "I've been working on that a lot. I want to be a consistent shooter. I want to improve my defense -- I want to be great at team defense. Those are my main focuses right now. I just want to learn the game."

Bradley turned 22 years old on Monday. As his NBA game continues to develop, he is enjoying a dual role on the Celtics, both as a mentee and a mentor.  

"I ask Rondo so many questions now," he said. "I watch a lot of film because of him. It's funny because it seems like I was just a rookie yesterday and now I'm helping the rookies and sometimes I'm helping the older guys because I look at the game differently."
        
Bradley hopes to participate in contact drills during practice in December. He encourages his teammates to stay ready at a moment's notice and continues to practice what he preaches. Each step in the recovery process, every dribbling drill and shooting routine are all critical to being able to get back into action when he is cleared to play.

"People do come in and out of this league but I always look at it, I say this all the time, things happen for a reason," he said. "I got injured for a reason and that made me hungry, want to keep working. I just continued to get better and better and better, and when my time came last year, I was prepared and I just want the same thing to happen this year. I want to continue to keep working."

THURSDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Jared Goff, Todd Gurley explode in shootout win vs. 49ers

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THURSDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Jared Goff, Todd Gurley explode in shootout win vs. 49ers

Jared Goff threw for 292 yards and three touchdowns and Todd Gurley ran for two TDs and caught another to help the Los Angeles Rams put up another big offensive performance with a 41-39 victory over the San Francisco 49ers on Thursday night.

The NFL's lowest-scoring team last year looks like a completely different outfit this season under first-year coach Sean McVay thanks to vastly improved play by Goff after a rough rookie season as the No. 1 overall pick.

The Rams (2-1) have also been helped by the additions of receivers Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods and the play-calling of McVay as they have scored 107 points through three games. That's the second-most in franchise history, trailing only the 119 by "The Greatest Show on Turf" squad in 2000.

This win didn't come easy as the Rams nearly blew a 15-point lead, giving up two late touchdowns, fumbling a kickoff return and failing to recover an onside kick. But Los Angeles managed to stop a potential game-tying 2-point conversion and then used an offensive pass interference penalty against Trent Taylor and a fourth-down sack by Aaron Donald to stop the Niners after the onside kick.

The 49ers (0-3) scored five touchdowns after failing to get any the first two weeks but still came up short in part because a missed extra point by Robbie Gould forced them to try for 2 on their late touchdown.

This time it was a tired defense that hurt San Francisco. After facing 79 plays in a 12-9 loss at Seattle on Sunday, the 49ers appeared to run out of gas on the short week as Goff frequently had wide-open receivers, especially on third down.

All three of Goff's touchdown passes came on third down, including a 13-yard pass to Watkins early in the fourth quarter that gave Los Angeles a 41-26 lead.

The Rams needed all that offense on a night where Brian Hoyer threw for 332 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another score.

QUICK START: The Rams took just 12 seconds to get on the board as Nickell Robey-Coleman intercepted Hoyer on the first play from scrimmage and returned it to the 3-yard line. Gurley ran it in on the next play to give the Rams a 7-0 lead.

DROUGHT BUSTER: The 49ers came into the game without a touchdown on the season but broke through in the first quarter with some help from the Rams. After Blake Countess jumped offside on a punt, the Niners took advantage of the second opportunity and drove to score on Hoyer's 9-yard run 126:43 into the season. That was the longest it took a team to score its first TD since 2006 when both Tampa Bay (143:03) and Oakland (127:10) took more time.

FOURTH DOWN CALLS: Both teams drove to the opposing 1 on their opening drives of the second half with help from a Willie Mays-style basket catch by Watkins and a perfect toe drag on the sideline by San Francisco's Pierre Garcon. But the Rams opted to kick a short field goal, while the 49ers went for it and converted on Carlos Hyde's 1-yard run that cut Los Angeles' lead to 27-20. Hyde added a second 1-yard run on fourth down in the fourth quarter.

INJURIES: Rams S Lamarcus Joyner left the game in the first half with a hamstring injury. ... Los Angeles C John Sullivan injured his groin in the second half and Watkins and Tavon Austin left with concussions. ... 49ers S Jaquiski Tartt (concussion), FB Kyle Juszczyk (neck), DL Tank Carradine (ankle) and LB Brock Coyle (concussion) all left with injuries in the second half.

UP NEXT: The Rams travel to Dallas on Oct. 1. The 49ers visit Arizona.

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Boston Sports Tonight Podcast: Is there a blueprint to beat the Patriots?

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Boston Sports Tonight Podcast: Is there a blueprint to beat the Patriots?

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO THE PODCAST.

0:41 - Tom E. Curran breaks down the ‘blueprint’ to beat the Patriots and if the Texans have the talent to do it.

5:27 - Michael Holley and Kayce Smith discuss Kyrie Irving’s comments that he made on Early Edition about going back to Cleveland for the opening game. 

9:52 - We take a listen to what Malcolm Butler had to say about his role on the team and discuss how the cornerback keeps saying all the right things. 

15:18 - Michael McCann, Legal Analyst for Sports Illustrated joins BST to talk about Aaron Hernandez’s brain found to have CTE and his family now suing the NFL and the Patriots.