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Avery Bradley’s philosophy: ‘Defense is just effort’

01.03.13 at 9:38 am ET

Even if his jump shot isn’t back yet, the Celtics really need Avery Bradley‘s attitude.

“Defense is just effort,” he said after his return from double shoulder surgery. “If you give effort, you can never have a bad defensive game. That’s how I think of it. You play as hard as you can. That’s all you have to do.”

Outside of Kevin Garnett and possibly Jason Collins, it’s hard to say there’s anybody else on the Celtics who offers a consistent effort on the defensive end every night. Just ask Tony Allen. Rajon Rondo and Paul Pierce often conserve themselves for the offensive end, Courtney Lee hasn’t come as advertised defensively and nobody else on the C’s roster has developed much of a defensive reputation, unless you include Fab Melo, who started the season falling into a folding chair and currently suffers from a concussion after walking into a doorway.

In addition to being the NBA’s worst rebounding team, the Celtics rank in the middle of the pack in almost every defensive statistical category after ranking among the top five teams in defensive rating every season since 2008.

“Every team has its up and downs,” said Bradley, who scored four points on six shots during Wednesday night’s loss to the Grizzlies. “The best teams are the ones that can go through the adversity and overcome it. With the veteran leadership we have, I feel like we’€™re going to overcome it. We’ve just got to keep improving.”

And Bradley’s return will help expedite that improvement. He played all 19:31 against Memphis point Mike Conley, who scored 16 of his 23 points and took 13 of his 15 shots while Bradley rested on the bench. Conley registered five of his nine assists against Bradley, but two of those came on 3-pointers and two others on mid-range jump shots; only once did the Grizzlies guard create a shot inside the paint against Bradley.

“Avery was terrific on the ball,” said Celtics coach Doc Rivers, who spent more time postgame than usual speaking to his team in private. “Avery’s going to help us; you could see that. And that’ll be immediate for us. … You could see him struggling with his shot a little bit, but he’s going to be a big help for us.”

The jumper will come. While Bradley already had his slashing game working, taking three shots within two feet of the basket, he missed both his 3-point attempts and an 18-footer off a screen. In time, Bradley’s confident he’ll find the stroke that connected on 41 percent of his 3’s last season, including 56 percent from the corners.

“Offensively, you’€™ve got to pick your spots,” he admitted. “You’€™ve got to just get back in that rhythm. Game shots are a lot different than just shooting in the gym. So, you’ve just got to get used to it.”

It’s been said before, but it’s worth noting again. Bradley may still be a budding star, but his presence makes an impact that ripples down the roster. On Wednesday, when Bradley matched up against Conley, the Grizzlies often didn’t get their offense going until late in the shot clock and settled for jump shots (41-71 FGA outside 10 feet), and that disruption only stands to improve once Bradley gets the wind back beneath his new wings.

“I felt good out there,” said Bradley, who felt no pain in his shoulders after the game. “I was not tired at all. A few times I got a little tired, but I wasn’t tired. I wanted to pick [Conley] up full-court the whole game. I’ve obviously got to guage it, get used to being out there. Next game, I’€™m just going to keep improving, just like our team.’€

Also, Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo moves off the ball, where he excels defensively, Jason Terry (9 points on five shots against the Grizzlies) permanently moves to the bench, where he’s been consistently good in his career, and Courtney Lee (12:19 vs. Memphis) moves down the depth chart. Meanwhile, the frontcourt can concentrate on defending post players like Marc Gasol (1-7 FG, 5 points) and Zack Randolph (3-8 FG, 6 points).

“That’s how the team’€™s built, how it’s supposed to be, and that’s what we expected coming into the season, so now it’s finally here,” said Terry. “Now, there’s an adjustment to be made. You hate to feel like you’re always in an adjustment period, but that’s what the season’s all about. It’s all about finding your way, finding a rhythm.”

And maybe Bradley’s “I just try to play as hard as I can” approach can help the C’s rediscover that identity.

Read More: Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics, Doc Rivers, Jason Terry
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