Bradley's defense valuable to C's


ORLANDO, Fla.As Boston Celtics point man Rajon Rondo (wrist) inches closer to returning to action, Avery Bradley's role will decrease obviously.

"Avery won't start. I hope you guys know that," quipped Celtics coach Doc Rivers.

Maybe not, but he's starting to turn heads to the point where teams have to give some thought to game-planning against his on-the-ball pressure.

For all that went the Celtics' way in their 87-56 win over Orlando on Monday, it was Bradley's ability to stifle the flow of Orlando's offense that played a major role in the blowout.

"Avery Bradley set a great tone," Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said after the loss. "We had trouble even getting the ball into the scoring area."

And to think, it was just a couple weeks ago that Bradley was headed toward end-of-the-bench status with rookie E'Twaun Moore looking as though he would replace Bradley in the rotation.

After spending much of his rookie season either injured or simply not playing, questions about whether Bradley could legitimately help this team were starting to take shape.

Now, it's not a question as to whether the second-year guard can help the Celtics win games. It's now about how much can he provide moving forward.

Of course Bradley's game has its shortcomings.

He still struggles at running a team effectively, and his perimeter shooting is shaky, at best. These were all issues that Rivers and his staff went back and fourth discussing during the offseason.

"We talked about it as a staff at the beginning of the year," Rivers said. "That we may have to go to a different offense for the second unit which I don't do very often. Avery's not Rondo; he's not going to be Rondo as far as running a team. What he does defensively is so good for us, it's good to have him out on the floor. So if we have to have him on the floor as a point, we have to run a different set so that that group can function offensively."

That's why you'll most likely see him on the floor with Paul Pierce andor Kevin Garnett, with one of them being the one to initiate the offense after Bradley gets the ball into the frontcourt.

But Bradley's shortcomings are all things that can only get better with time and opportunity - both of which he has made the most of with Rondo being out.

"It's hard to grow as a player if you don't get the minutes," Pierce said. "Even though Rajon is hurt, he (Bradley) is able to get these minutes which is valuable experience, which also leads to confidence."

And as confident as Bradley has been in his ability to play, now you're starting to see his teammates have confidence in him as well.

Veteran guard Keyon Dooling has seen his share of talented players during his 11-plus NBA seasons. What Bradley does defensively, sticks out in a really, really good way for Boston.

"Avery is the best on-the-ball defender in the NBA," Dooling said. "At the point guard position, there's nobody who does it better on the ball. And I want the whole league to recognize that. He has a unique skill, and he does it great."

And while it's still early, Bradley's defense has actually put pressure on his teammates to step their defensive game up.

During Monday's win, Pierce pulled Bradley aside for a brief conversation.

"Paul came up and told me when you play defense like that it makes us play defense even harder," Bradley recalled. "Thats all I try to do, I try to help in anyway I can.

With Rondo back as early as Thursday, Bradley will come off the bench and most likely play some with Dooling, who is also a good on-the-ball defender.

"I'm looking forward to contributing to the team any way possible," said Dooling, who has been out with a knee injury. "Obviously, when you see Avery in the backcourt picking up 94 feet, if you're off the ball you don't want your guy to have easy catches or things like that. That would negate all his efforts. I want him to be able to trust me, so I have to make sure I do my job as well defensively."

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