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Maturing Avery Bradley relishes playoff experience

05.11.12 at 10:38 am ET

Every playoff game, as the Celtics starters are being introduced at TD Garden, fans are reminded of Avery Bradley‘s growth as a player. Over the five-year run of the new Big Three era, fans are accustomed to hearing Ray Allen‘s name, but lately it’s Bradley’s who is called.

It takes a little getting used to. After all, moving ahead of arguably the greatest 3-point shooter of all-time in the lineup is no easy feat. As Bradley gains playoff experience, his understanding of the nuances and intricacies of the game at the NBA level increases minute by minute. During the Celtics’ series-clinching 83-80 win in Game 6 Thursday night, Bradley took another step toward maturity when he requested to guard Jeff Teague.

Bradley was stuck guarding Marvin Williamswho, at 6-foot-9, has seven inches on the C’s youngster — and surrendered eight points in the first quarter. It was a tough matchup for Bradley. In the second quarter the Hawks opened up a 28-20 lead and Boston was left searching for answers on both ends of the court.

But as Williams started to cool off, the C’s guard decided to take on a player who has hurt Boston throughout the series, Teague. So, the usually reticent Bradley pitched his desire to shut down the other No. 0 to Doc Rivers.

“He had a great series,” Bradley said of Teague. “I just wanted to come in this game, and I was covering Marvin, and I told the coaches ‘let me pressure Teague a bit.’ Even [Rajon] Rondo came to me and told me to pressure him. I just wanted to make everything hard on him tonight. My main focus was just to slow him down and make things hard on him to get them out of their offense.”

It is odd to think about. Names that jump out while gazing at the Hawks roster include Al Horford, Joe Johnson and Josh Smith. Those are the players coaches game-plan against. In the first five games, though, Rivers learned that the Hawks’ pesky point guard, Teague, is not just a distributor — he is an offensive threat.

Excluding the Game 4 blowout at the Garden last Sunday, Teague averaged 18 points a game while shooting 46.2 percent from the field during the series. The efficiency speaks to Teague’s quickness and ability to get to the basket. Going into Game 6 Thursday night, 20 of the 28 shots Teague made in the first-round series were within or around the paint — in close range.

That changed on Thursday night, when Bradley shut off any lanes to the basket while guarding Teague. In the first half, Teague only had three shot attempts and missed them all. He was a non-factor and, as the case has been all year, the Celtics turned their defense into offense, going on a 16-0 run to take a lead into halftime. Teague finished with a series-low five points on just 2-of-9 shooting.

Bradley’s comprehension of team defense to go along with his developing offensive game obviously is a positive for Boston. But perhaps more promising is his endearing outlook of team over self. The 21-year-old spoke glowingly about playing with the Big Three, the concepts of team defense, and the excitement of moving on to the second round. Coming off a forgettable Game 5 performance, Bradley didn’t care that he was only 3-of-9 from the field, he cared that he contributed. And with that eagerness and attitude, the rest will take of itself.

“What you learn in the playoffs is when you have a bad game, don’t worry about it,” Bradley said. “The next game just worry about getting better. It’s my first playoff series, I got a chance to play and win, so it was a good experience for me. I learned a lot, and I’m going to keep improving. I’m excited for the second round.”

Read More: Avery Bradley, Jeff Teague, Marvin Williams, Ray Allen
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