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Stops get Bradley started

Defense fuels guard's offense

Celtics guard Avery Bradley reacts after forcing counterpart Jordan Farmar into a turnover. Celtics guard Avery Bradley reacts after forcing counterpart Jordan Farmar into a turnover. (Yoon S. Byun/Globe Staff)
By Frank Dell’Apa
Globe Staff / January 5, 2012
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There were many reasons for Avery Bradley to pass up shots in the Celtics’ 89-70 win over the Nets last night. In fact, a statistical case could have been made that Bradley shouldn’t have been involved in the offense at all at important times in the game.

In six previous games this season, Bradley had converted one field goal. In the final preseason game, Bradley had a 1-for-10 shooting night. And he fired up an airball on his first attempt against the Nets.

But Bradley was there when the Celtics needed him during an 18-3 third-quarter run, stepping into a 3-pointer out of a timeout and generally getting the better of Jordan Farmar.

Bradley totaled 11 points in a 23-minute stint, probably his most impressive production since joining the Celtics last season besides a 20-point output in the throwaway final game of last season.

But scoring is not the reason Bradley is starting to receive significant minutes. Bradley’s strength is one-on-one defending, and that is why coach Doc Rivers has looked to him as an option at backup point guard.

“I’ve got to say, I thought Avery was sensational,’’ Rivers said. “You know, he missed some shots early and a lot of people have been making a lot of talk about his shots, but his defense was infectious. I thought it changed the game. I thought he was phenomenal defensively.

“When Avery gets that, the other part will come. When he understands that he’s a great defensive player, the offensive stuff will come. For young guys, because they want to be an offensive player, it affects their minds. But you can see him slowly getting there. Everyone was encouraging him when he was up in there. You could hear our whole bench cheering for him.’’

That support arrived most enthusiastically after Bradley stopped Farmar off the dribble in front of the Celtics’ bench late in the third quarter.

And Bradley soon after converted a 3-pointer off a Paul Pierce pass.

“One thing Doc told me when I came out of the timeout,’’ Bradley said, “ ‘Let the game come to you, you know Paul and those guys will create for you.’ I hit that three, Paul got me that shot. Paul told me if I keep playing defense like that he’ll give me shots.’’

The Celtics had finally taken control with a 56-46 lead coming out of a timeout with :08 on the shot clock. Rajon Rondo went to the bench, the Celtics hoping to preserve the lead with Pierce and the second unit on the court for the final 2:02. Bradley replaced Rondo, and the first time he touched the ball in the second half converted the 3-pointer for a 59-46 advantage.

“With him, it’s all about his confidence,’’ Pierce said of Bradley. “The more he plays, the more he plays well. I think he works so hard, he’s got to understand who he is for us - he’s a guy who defends the ball probably as good as anybody in the NBA, the way he picks up and slides his feet. If he can do that and then he’s able to knock down open shots when he gets them, he can be a hell of a player in this league.’’

Bradley has maintained a positive outlook.

“I don’t really feel pressure,’’ he said. “I can tell how much confidence, not only Doc, but my teammates have in me. I’m ready to take that challenge. In practice, I hold Ray Allen, and we joke about if I can hold Ray Allen, I can hold anybody.’’

And that is what Rivers has been saying since the Celtics selected Bradley in the first round of the draft last season.

“I think sometimes they get it, at some point, and sometimes they don’t,’’ said Rivers. “And Avery is clearly getting it.

“He had a couple turnovers at the end of the second quarter and I thought both times only because he was trying to do too much with the ball. The second half, he was the exact opposite. I thought he let it come to him and he made a shot.

“I always talk about the basketball gods - they take care of you if you do it right.’’

Frank Dell’Apa can be reached at f_dellapa@globe.com.

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