By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Avery Bradley will bring his determined defense and calming demeanor back to the TD Garden on Monday night, paying his first visit to his old stomping grounds as a member of the Detroit Pistons.
He’ll attempt to slow down Kyrie Irving, which no one in the NBA has really been able to do for the last month (aside from an Aron Baynes elbow). Irving put up some truly ridiculous shooting numbers in Cleveland’s five-game Eastern Conference finals win over Boston last summer, hitting over 60 percent of his shots, but Bradley made him work on most of them. It’s that determination and effort that won over Celtics fans during Bradley’s seven seasons in Boston.
Sent to Motown in an offseason swap to create cap space for Gordon Hayward, the Boston fan favorite will no doubt be showered with cheers when he is announced in the Pistons starting five on Monday. From the day the Celtics drafted him 19th overall as a 19-year-old guard out of Texas to his final moments with the team last postseason, Bradley was nothing but a professional. He broke in as a passenger during the new Big Three era, never overstepping on the veteran-laden team, before eventually replacing Ray Allen as the C’s everyday shooting guard.
Bradley could be counted on to lock into the opposition’s best scoring guard and make life difficult for them on a nightly basis. He teamed with Rajon Rondo to form one of the league’s best defensive backcourts for a handful of seasons, and along the way molded into a reliable scorer. He even turned himself into a strong rebounder in his final season in Boston when the team was lacking in that department.
He even saved one of his best moments in green for last, draining a game-winning three in Cleveland for Boston’s only win over the Cavaliers in the conference finals.
Bradley was always a quiet leader, but he made his presence known in other ways. That continues now that he is in Detroit, drawing praise from his new head coach for doing everything the right way in a league filled with far too many “me-first” players.
“He sets a great tone for our team in terms of what he brings every day,” Pistons head coach Stan Van Gundy said Monday. “Ideally you’d have 10-12 of those guys, but that doesn’t happen. He approaches the game the right way every day, and the more of those guys you have, I do think it’s contagious. Guys are still going to be who they are, but incrementally, everybody steps it up just a notch when they see a guy like that.
“Avery is great because he brings that every day, but he’s not a know-it-all telling everybody you should do this or do that,” said Van Gundy. “He’ll say things to guys, but he’s just one of the guys, not trying to be the guy who knows everything. Those guys tend to rub people the wrong way and that’s certainly not him.”
With Bradley in the mix, the Pistons are 12-6 on the season — their best start in a decade. Their defense is playing extremely well, allowing just 101.8 points per game (seventh in the NBA) despite opponents shooting a robust .467 from the floor and .367 from three (both in the lower half of the league).
Bradley said that he’s treating his return to Boston as just another game, eager to see how the current second-best team in the East matches up against the current conference leader. He said the Celtics are playing hard and playing together, despite all the roster turnover in the offseason, which is the perfect ingredient for winning basketball.
While he doesn’t have many former friends or teammates on the opposing bench on Monday night, he shared his appreciation for Boston following Detroit’s morning shootaround.
“I learned so much from this city and from the guys around the organization,” he said, saying he still keeps in touch with former trainers Ed Lacerte and Bryan Doo, as well as media services manager Jeff Twiss. “I learned a lot from everybody on the court and off the court. My time here, I really appreciated.
“Every step in your life helps you get to be the person you want to be, or in this case the basketball player I want to be,” he added. “I look at all the experiences I had and I’m thankful for them.”
Though Bradley was part of teams that were either past their prime or not ready for the big moment, fans will always appreciate what he brought to the floor every night. They’ll obviously be hoping for a show from Irving on Monday, as the game offers another solid test for the NBA’s hottest team, but it’s a certainty that Bradley will be out there giving it his all to make sure that doesn’t happen. The uniform may be different, but it’s still the same Avery Bradley.