PHILADELPHIA — Avery Bradley is giving opponents an increasingly more difficult choice as he lines up with Kevin Garnett on the pick-and-roll. Right now, every opposing defender is going to blanket Garnett, trying to stymie his twisting, turning post move that usually results in a swished jumper.
On Tuesday night at Wells Fargo Center, the 76ers made that same choice, leaving Bradley open on the two-man game and on the fast break. And perhaps his performance in the Celtics’ victory can finally dispel the perception that Bradley is an erratic shooter.
In a classic trap game — the Celtics had played once in eight days — Bradley helped the Celtics seize and hold a lead by hitting 10 of his first 12 shots, and Garnett spun and turned his way to 18 points in a lighter-than-expected 28 minutes in the 109-101 victory.
Bradley had a team-high 22 points, all in the first three quarters, as the Celtics spent the evening staving off Philadelphia rallies and burning the 76ers defense with crisp ball movement. Celtics coach Doc Rivers said he feared rustiness after such a long respite, but Bradley’s shooting, along with strong defense after a rough start, helped the Celtics win in a venue where they have struggled mightily.
“He was good all around,” Rivers said of Bradley. “His defense was terrific. And he’s starting to make the little pull-up jump shot. He’s been making the threes for the most part and he keeps shooting them and we want him to. I’m really happy with his pull-up off the dribble, that’s a big shot for us. And he’s starting to make that — that’s big.”
Bradley is shooting 31 of 54 (57.4 percent) over the past five games and his effectiveness from the perimeter is creating opportunities for teammates. Garnett scored 6 of Boston’s first 8 points and the ball movement left him with single coverage on several occasions against Spencer Hawes. Garnett one-on-one against almost anyone is a favorable matchup.
“I think the [talent] that Danny [Ainge] has put on our team, we can definitely put the ball in the basket,” Garnett said. “That’s not primary. Our primary [goal] is to stop the ball. We’re a defensive team that can score the ball.
“When somebody [like Avery] is aggressive, obviously it makes it easier on the primaries. I said this since he’s come back from his injury; he’s playing with a certain level of confidence. He knows he’s going to have minutes. We’re asking a lot of him. I think he’s meeting the challenge. I think he’s playing great, considering what you ask him.”
A three-day break did nothing to hinder the Celtics’ cohesion established since season-ending injuries to Rajon Rondo and Jared Sullinger. Bradley paced the offense in the first three quarters and Jordan Crawford (12 points in 16 minutes) came off the bench for much-needed lift when the 76ers reduced a 13-point deficit to 5.
Crawford scored 5 points, including one of his quirky runners, as the Celtics began the fourth quarter with a 9-0 run to extend their lead to 88-74.
The Celtics constantly pushed the ball at the 76ers, who retreated and left gaping holes on the floor for perimeter shots. Of the Celtics’ 42 field goals, 23 were from the perimeter, and Paul Pierce, who has been inconsistent from the 3-point line this season, drained all four of his attempts for 18 points. He also had 11 rebounds and seven assists as the Celtics improved to 12-4 since Rondo’s injury.
Bradley not only was effective offensively, as he stifled All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday, who finished with 18 points on 6-for-17 shooting — with five turnovers. Following the game, Celtics guard Courtney Lee tweeted that Holiday asked him and Bradley to ease up on the defensive pressure.
“My main focus going into every game is playing hard on defense and that’s what I tried to do tonight,” Bradley said. “Obviously it got my offensive game going. My teammates have confidence and I have to have confidence in myself and if I have an open shot, I have to take it.”
The end of the third quarter was troubling as the Celtics allowed the 76ers to score the final 8 points in a span of 73 seconds on four turnovers. A comfortable 79-66 lead that had all the makings of a fourth-quarter cruise suddenly turned into a precarious 5-point lead, but the Celtics extended the lead to 15 in the fourth quarter.
A couple of practices during the respite worked wonders for ball movement. The Celtics recorded a whopping 34 assists on 42 baskets, Pierce leading the way with seven.
The 76ers made it slightly uncomfortable with a mini-run that reduced the Celtics lead to 91-83 with 6:28 left but Dorell Wright committed a costly turnover and Pierce nailed his final 3-pointer at the 5:50 mark, giving the Celtics a 94-83 cushion.
“They blew up a couple of plays with good defense and the ball just kept moving and eventually it found an open shooter,” Rivers said. “It’s simple. It’s hard to do unless you buy in and everybody’s bought in.”