Since the beginning of the NBA season, the Boston Celtics has been a team surrounded with question marks. A perennial favorite to top the Eastern Conference standings, the Celtics, at this point in the season, remind me of Forrest Gump and his box of chocolates — you never know what you’re going to get.
There have been games when Boston comes out and plays with a sense of urgency and energy that fans have become accustomed to watching over the last five seasons. Then there is the other side, when the team comes out flat and shows their aging legs. It has been one extreme or the other, which calls for them to play a near perfect game in order to win.
The most glaring issues for the team include its spotty defensive effort from game to game and defining roles for players. The crux of both of these problems lies solely in the health of third-year guard Avery Bradley.
Bradley, who had been sidelined since the end of last season with shoulder issues, has recently returned to action and has revitalized the Celtics. The third-year guard has been regarded as one of the best defenders in the league and has made big strides in improving his offense since getting to the NBA. The Celtics were comfortable enough with Bradley’s development to let veteran sharp shooter Ray Allen walk away this summer, opening the door for Bradley to step into the starting shooting guard role.
With Bradley on the court, the Celtics are a completely different team. On the offensive side, Rajon Rondo can be more of an aggressor and attack the basket more often because he has Bradley,waiting in transition, in the event of a fast-break opportunity. The tempo of the offense gets turned up with Rondo and Bradley together, as they are ready and willing to run the floor at any given time. In terms of defense, Bradley himself poses a threat to all teams. He provides an in-your-face type of defense that is rarely seen in the game these days, and it tends to halt teams from developing any momentum or continuity. Bradley’s energy on the defensive end is also contagious, with teammates trying to mirror his work ethic.
Personnel issues are also resolved with a healthy Bradley, as rotations and roles become more defined. The starting shooting guard position was a revolving door of players prior to Bradley’s return, which stunted the chemistry of the second unit. Now that Bradley has returned, Courtney Lee and Jason Terry can resume playing off the bench where they feel most comfortable and flourish.
Since Bradley’s return, the Celtics produced a six-game winning streak and climbed back into contention in the Eastern Conference. By no means does one player make a team, but Bradley’s presence and ability transforms the team into a more complete unit. If Bradley and the core of this gritty Celtics squad can stay healthy and hungry, there is no reason to believe that Boston cannot be one of the league’s best once again.