Celtics Expect Bradley To Return for Sunday

BOSTON – Evan Turner knocked the wind out of the Celtics when he put home a buzzer-beating runner Wednesday night at TD Garden.

About 20 minutes later, Brad Stevens put a gust back into his team’s sails when he announced that Avery Bradley is expected to be back in the lineup for Sunday’s 1 p.m. tip-off against the Orlando Magic.

“Avery should play,” Stevens announced at the close of his postgame press conference. “I don’t see any reason why, right now, he wouldn’t play on Sunday.”

Avery Bradley takes a jumper

Boston's offense will receive a needed boost when Avery Bradley returns to the lineup on Sunday.
Fernando Medina/NBAE/Getty Images

Bradley has recovered at a rapid pace from a sprained right ankle that he suffered on Jan. 21 in Miami. Should he return to action on Sunday, he will have missed just five games. Considering where he was on the night of Jan. 21 – in a walking boot, on crutches, and barely able to put any weight on his right leg – that is a pretty incredible recovery.

The Celtics surely couldn’t be any more excited to get their starting shooting guard back in the lineup. They desperately need his presence at both ends of the court.

Bradley has been known for years as an elite NBA defender. He was chosen as an All-NBA Defensive Second Team performer last season and ranked fifth in the league in votes for the First Team.

Boston has struggled to contain opposing guards during the absence of Bradley’s defense. While Bradley has been out, the C’s have allowed John Wall to notch a triple-double for Washington, Jeremy Lamb to score 19 points for Oklahoma City, Tim Hardaway Jr. and J.R. Smith to score 17 points apiece for New York, and, ultimately, Turner to drive to the basket for a game-winner as time expired on Wednesday.

You can bet your life savings that many of those performances would have been washed away had Bradley been on the floor.

To the surprise of many, though, it may be the return of Bradley’s offense that is even more critical to Boston. The Celtics have failed to score the basketball or shoot it with any type of efficiency while Bradley has been on the mend.

Bradley has arguably been Boston’s top offensive weapon this season. He is second on the team in scoring (14.5 points per game) and owns the team’s top shooting percentages among full-time guards.

Opposing teams have come to respect Bradley’s jumper, and for good reason. He has been an elite mid-range shooter this season. Bradley has shot better than the league average in four of the five mid-range areas in 2013-14, according to NBA.com/stats. He has also been solid from 3-point range as well, nailing 36.2 percent of his attempts.

In the absence of Bradley’s shooting, Boston’s offense has lacked the spacing it would like to see on a nightly basis. Chris Johnson has stepped in and shot it well, but teams continue to defend in a way that forces the Celtics to shoot 3-pointers (which isn’t their strength) or fight for shots in the paint (where they have not excelled all season).

Boston's shot chart without Avery Bradley

The high majority of Boston's shot attempts during Avery Bradley's absence have come from either 3-point range or from right around the basket, indicating a lack of floor spacing.

Boston has shot just 40.5 percent from the field during its five-game stretch without Bradley. Due to the lack of spacing, Celtics players who have typically excelled in the mid-range are no longer able to fire up their customary shots.

Big men Brandon Bass and Kris Humphries have feasted from the central three mid-range areas and the free-throw line area this season. Both have seen their attempts from those locations decrease since Bradley went down. Bass’ attempts in those area have dropped from about 2.2 per game to 1.2 per game, while Humphries’ attempts have dropped from 2.2 per game to 1.6 a night. Boston’s overall shot attempts from those locations have dropped by nearly 5 percent since Bradley went down.

As you might surmise based off of all of the numbers highlighted in this piece, the Celtics have struggled without No. 0 in the lineup. They have gone just 1-4 while playing without his game-changing talents at both ends of the floor.

That will all change on Sunday if all goes as planned. The Celtics have been anxiously awaiting the return of Bradley’s defense, scoring and floor spacing for a little more than a week. They should finally have it back when they take on the Magic at TD Garden.

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