WALTHAM — It was only practice, and his shots were uncontested, but Avery Bradley couldn’t miss.
Swish, swish, swish. The jumper was smooth. It looked mechanical and repeatable. And the buckets kept coming, all from long range.
During the portion of the Celtics practice open to the media Tuesday, Bradley missed just two shots from 3-point range, draining close to 20. He is set to make his season debut Wednesday night against Memphis, having spent seven months rehabbing his surgically repaired shoulders.
Jared Sullinger said the 22-year-old guard has more offense to contribute than some might think. Rajon Rondo called him the best defender in the NBA at the guard position. Coach Doc Rivers said Bradley was a top-five on-ball defender and basically would eliminate one guard from the opposing team.
The compliments kept coming in. But all with a disclaimer after the team’s 14-16 start: We’re not asking him to save our season.
“We’re just not doing that,” Rivers said. “That’s [the media]. I haven’t said to our team one time, ‘Guys, when Avery comes back . . .’
“So that’s from outside the team, not from inside the team.”
One thing Rivers was certain about is that the Celtics can’t win games when they’re allowing as many points as they have recently, including 118 to a Sacramento team that averages about 96.
The Celtics have allowed 98.1 points per game, 17th in the NBA. They’ve given up more than seven 3-pointers per game, 15th in the NBA, while allowing opponents to shoot 37.5 percent from downtown.
Last season, with Bradley a fixture in the lineup and attached to an opposing guard, no team defended the 3-pointer like Boston, which allowed a feeble 30.8 percent and just five treys per game.
“We have to be a better defensive team consistently,” Rivers said.
“It’s amazing; when we win games, we hold teams to 93 points and 41 percent on field goals. When we lose, they’re scoring 103 points and shooting 48 percent.”
As the Celtics get Bradley back, they may be without Rondo, who tried playing through a bruised hip in Sunday’s 118-96 loss to the Kings after being held out of the previous game against Golden State.
“When you’re getting beat down the court by a big, it’s frustrating,” Rondo said. “I’m OK. I’ll be fine. It’s not like I need surgery or anything. It’s just a bruise.”
Rondo was wearing slippers and sweatpants as the Celtics took the floor for practice Tuesday, and while he said he hopes to play Wednesday, Rivers wondered if that’s a good idea.
“I didn’t think he was very aggressive [Sunday],” said Rivers. “When his guy scores 27 and he scores 2, that tells you all you need to know. He couldn’t move much.
“We talked after the game and I couldn’t give him an answer, whether he was helping or hurting the team the way he was moving. But you want him on the floor, so it’s a tough call.”
Bradley, who stayed in Boston for extra practice during the Celtics’ four-game road trip, will definitely play Wednesday, though Rivers has yet to decide if it will be in a starting or reserve role.
“I’m just going to go out and play hard,” Bradley said. “That’s all I can do. That’s how I play. Go out there and leave everything on the floor. Tomorrow, that’s what you guys will see.”
When Rondo joins him, Bradley’s presence should allow the point guard to have more freedom defensively, which also could lead to more fast-break chances.
“I’m going to be allowed to play off the ball a lot more with Avery,” Rondo said. “He’s a better pick-and-roll defender than me. That takes a lot of pressure off me, just coming down the court to make plays.
“He plays with a lot of energy. A lot of guys don’t like to face a guy like Avery. I think he’s the best defender in the league, hands down, at the guard position.”
Sullinger said his biggest concern was how long Bradley will be able to last on the court, especially considering the up-tempo style he likes to play.
“It’s going to take some time,” Sullinger said. “First, Avery has to get his game legs back. Everybody can have practice legs or workout legs, but he’s going to have to get his game legs back.”
At this point, the Celtics appear willing to take whatever they can get. Rivers said his team has looked “old, tired, and slow” at times, using a combination of Courtney Lee and Jason Terry out of the shooting guard position.
Bradley, who will get his starting job back when his body is ready, should help change that.
“If you can stop one of the guards from dribble-penetrating, it has to help,” Rivers said.