BOSTON – If you didn’t already believe that Avery Bradley is one of the best two-way players in the NBA, then Wednesday night’s Game 5 performance against the Chicago Bulls should provide plenty of evidence to convince you otherwise.
On the defensive end, Bradley locked up Jimmy Butler from start to finish, helping to limit the All-Star forward to just 14 points on 6-of-15 shooting from the floor.
Offensively, the Celtics guard erupted for a playoff career-high 24 points on 11-of-19 shooting, while leading the C’s to a 108-97 win and a 3-2 advantage in their first-round series.
Bradley’s excellent play on both sides of the ball left Chicago’s players frustrated and searching for answers after the game.
Butler, who attempted (and missed) just one free throw, after attempting 23 in Game 4, just shook his head when asked about Bradley’s defense against him.
“I didn’t win the matchup,” was the only answer Butler could offer, after Bradley held him to just one field goal make when guarding him directly.
Dwyane Wade, meanwhile, emphasized Bradley’s offensive impact, noting, “He hurt us offensively tonight more than anything.”
“Everyone knows he’s a good defender,” said Wade. “He’s guarded both (myself and Jimmy) this series, but tonight he got his offensive game going. You expect him to do what he does defensively, but we gave up 24 points to him tonight and that’s tough to overcome because you’ve already got Isaiah (Thomas) who’s going to get 20, and Al (Horford) got 20 tonight too.”
While Thomas (24 points) and Horford (21 points) each had solid scoring nights, most of their points came as Boston pulled away during the fourth quarter. The only reason the Celtics were still in the game at that point was because of Bradley’s offensive dominance during the first three frames.
During the first quarter, Bradley kept Boston from falling into an early hole. The Celtics made just one field goal during the opening five and a half minutes of the game as the Bulls got out to an early 12-4 lead. Bradley, however, got Boston’s juices flowing at the 6:30 mark when he drove from the top of the arc to the rim for an explosive dunk. He then hit a put-back layup, a 3-pointer and a driving finger-roll layup to help Boston take a 23-20 lead after one quarter.
Bradley went on to score 17 points on 8-of-12 shooting during the first half alone, while Boston’s four other starters combined for 13 points on 4-of-18 shooting during that same span.
“I was just trying to be a little more aggressive on the offensive end,” said Bradley, who shot 8-of-10 from the restricted area. “I knew my team needed me to do that.”
Somehow he maintained a high level of aggression on the offensive end, while finding the energy to shut down an explosive athlete in Butler on the on other side of the ball.
“I just tried to pick my spots on both ends of the floor,” said Bradley. “I tried to stay out of foul trouble and tried to eliminate letting Jimmy Butler get to the free throw line. That was my goal in this game, and I feel like I did a great job at it.”
In truth, Bradley has done a great job of being effective on both ends of the floor throughout this campaign. During the regular season, he finished second on the team in points (16.3 per game), rebounds (6.1 per game) and steals (1.2 per game), while providing high-pressure on-ball defense on a nightly basis.
The Celtics have their offensive specialists, such as Thomas. They have their defensive specialists, such as Marcus Smart. But Bradley is a guy who can do it all on both sides of the ball, and Wednesday night’s Game 5 performance was the latest case of why he should be considered one of the best two-way players in the league.