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Avery Bradley is ready for the playoffs

04.27.12 at 1:18 pm ET

WALTHAM — When Chris Wilcox saw Avery Bradley on Thursday he gave him a big smile. “I told you your time would come,” Wilcox said.

Bradley’s time is now. His play in the second half of the season sparked a resurgence that helped the Celtics compile a 24-10 record after the All-Star break. With Bradley in the starting lineup, the Celtics were more than 18 points better than their opponents per 100 possessions, and they went from a good defensive team to downright scary.

It’s been quite a rise for the 21-year-old , who played only 162 minutes as a rookie and didn’t see the court at all in the postseason. “Yeah, it was frustrating but like I said I just took it as a learning experience,” Bradley said. “This year I’€™m going to be ready.”

Bradley quickly earned his teammates’ confidence. His ability to cut backdoor opened up new possibilities for their offense and his rapidly-improving jump shot enabled him to average more than 15 points per game in April. Bradley knocked down 48 percent of his attempts from 16-23 feet and he shot over 50 percent behind the arc in April.

“Avery’€™s proved more than enough,” Kevin Garnett said. “And I think he’€™s definitely more than ready.”

Bradley will be tested in their first round matchup with the Hawks and how he’s able to deal with Joe Johnson may go a long way in determining the outcome. The 6-foot-8 Johnson is one of the better post-up guards in the league and it’s no secret that he’ll try to attack Bradley down low.

“I can do my work early,” Bradley said. “Try to push him out as far as I can. He has the height advantage on me so I want to get him off the block.”

If he can’t, this creates a problem for the Celtics. They have Mickael Pietrus, who has the length and toughness to defend Johnson, but they are a much better team when Bradley is on the court.

“It’€™s a tough one because they’€™re going to post Avery up with the purpose of getting Avery off the floor,” Doc Rivers said. “Even if Avery wasn’€™t playing they’€™d still post whoever. That’€™s what Joe does when they move him to the 2-spot. He’€™s a big 2-guard. We would love to single cover but if we can’€™t we may have to do something different.”

With Al Horford and Zaza Pachulia injured, the Hawks will likely go with lineups that Rivers calls “big/small.” That is, having Johnson at the off-guard position with players like Marvin Williams and Tracy McGrady at forward and Josh Smith at center. That could create problems for the Celtics and force not only Bradley, but also Brandon Bass into awkward matchups.

“That’€™s a tough lineup,” Rivers said. “They do it and they do it against us more than any other team for a reason, obviously. It creates matchups and we’€™re going to have to deal with that.”

But Rivers and the rest of the Celtics are confident about one thing: No matter who Bradley guards, he’s going to defend. They’ve been calling him the best on-the-ball defensive guard in the league since January and he’s earned that rep.

“I don’€™t have concern about [how he’ll play],” Rivers said. “The playoffs will tell you what happens. We’€™re just going to tell him, ‘Go play.’ The one thing I’€™m not concerned is he’€™s going to be a good defender in the playoffs. That’€™s a guarantee.”

Read More: 2012 Playoffs, Avery Bradley, Joe Johnson,
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