During Game 1, Celtics guard Avery Bradley suffered a hamstring injury mid-way through the fourth quarter. He tried to walk off the court by himself but was unable to do so, needing help to get back the Celtics dressing room.
The diagnosis, as given by head coach Brad Stevens, the following day was the one Celtic fans feared — Bradley is doubtful for the remainder of the series.
“The update on Avery is Avery has a pretty significant strained hamstring. I would say would be doubtful for any of the remainder of the series, certainly very unlikely Tuesday night (for Game 2). As of right now I would say he’s out Tuesday night, but obviously he’ll continue to get treatment around the clock and go from there. So I would say very unlikely the rest of the series.” — Coach Brad Stevens
Devastating news for the Celtics, but what does it mean for the series going forward?
Boston loses (arguably) their best perimeter defender
Avery Bradley is an excellent defender, you should know this by now. In fact, he some received votes in the Defensive Player of the Year ballot.
He’s also incredibly versatile and can guard point guards, shooting guards, small forwards, and even a possession or two on some power forwards when he gets switched onto one. He really made life difficult for the Hawks in Game 1 with his defensive abilities.
Bradley is one of those players who will pick you up in your own half at any time in the game. The Hawks see it often with Dennis Schröder, and it really sets a defensive tone. Players hate when they’re picked up at full court.
In this sequence, I’m sure Schröder would’ve liked to have kept the ball a little longer to try and set up something, but Bradley’s pressure meant he had to give the ball up very early in the shot clock. Stuff like this really adds up.
You can also see Bradley’s versatility here, he switches on Korver (who he spent a lot of the night guarding) mid-possession and he is completely comfortable to do so, regardless of the difference in size. He’s 6’2 and Korver is 6’7, and he locked Korver up last night, denying him shot opportunities and made any shot Korver did take very difficult/rushed.
Look how hard he makes life for Schröder here, this is just great defense. He shows his versatility again here, switching onto Mike Scott, a power forward, for a moment before challenging Schröder’s layup attempt.
Bradley guarded Teague often in Game 1 and certainly gave him a challenge. Again, you see the fantastic defense displayed, but on this occasion the offense from Teague was a little better, and he is able to convert this layup.
This might be the best one of the lot — Bradley channelled his inner Gandalf, and refused to let Teague past him and get to the hoop. Add the block too, this was just an incredible defensive sequence from Bradley.
Bradley, again, denies Teague the opportunity to get to the rim, and forces him to give the ball up.
I mean, just look at these — so many examples from just one game of how important, and amazing, Avery Bradley is to Boston’s success.
This is what the Celtics are now without for the rest of the series and it tilts the scales in Atlanta’s favor. Don’t get me wrong, Crowder and Smart are good defenders too and can step up in Bradley’s absence, I just think they can’t do what he does and to the level he does it at.
Dennis Schröder’s, Tim Hardaway Jr.’s, and Jeff Teague’s lives are all made so much easier now that Bradley is out of the picture. However, it’s hard to say how much will change for Kyle Korver. He’ll still be guarded by Jae Crowder, just for much, much longer now that Bradley is out. But it means that someone else will have an easier time with their matchup and the Celtics can’t be as willing to switch (usually with Crowder switching onto a big and Bradley taking Crowder’s man for that possession) as they normally do.
Boston’s offense takes a hit
Isaiah Thomas leads this Celtics team in scoring with 22.2 points per game. Behind Thomas in scoring is Avery Bradley, who averages 15.2 points per game. Bradley became more of a two-way player this season, and this Boston team really needed this development in Bradley’s game. His three-point shooting — a consistent 36.1% — is also something that the Celtics really appreciate.
Bradley is also one of Boston’s most important players in the fourth quarter, ESPN Stats and Info had a great tweet about Bradley’s impact in crunch time.
Such plays include:
A buzzer beater against the Cavs.
A game winner against the Knicks.
Not from this season, but a buzzer beating shot to send this game against the Lakers into overtime, showing his ability and willingness to take the last shot of the game when it’s a ‘make this shot or we lose’ situation.
And even from Game 1 on Saturday, the Celtics were in the process of erasing Atlanta’s 19 point lead, and he hit this big shot to bring the Celtics within five points in the late stages of the third quarter.
Bradley is a big shot taker and a big shot maker. His absence means the Celtics are without one of their most consistent scorers and one less clutch shot maker. Without him, there’s even more pressure on Isaiah Thomas to take and make the big shots, and more pressure to carry the overall offensive burden.
For the Hawks, it means there is one less player that they have to worry about making a shot, allowing them to zero in on Thomas even more.
Boston’s ability to play small also takes a big hit. Bradley would normally guard Korver when the Celtics played small, since Crowder’s role shifts to power forward when Boston plays smaller. Now that Bradley is out, if the Celtics go small with Crowder at the four, it may leave the Hawks with a matchup that they can exploit. If Smart is guarding Korver, there’s a matchup out there waiting to be exploited. Some examples include Teague/Schröder on Thomas, Teague/Schröder on the inexperienced Hunter, Teague/Schröder on Evan Turner, or Bazemore on Thomas. If Evan Turner is guarding Korver, that’s also a matchup the Hawks can definitely exploit.
Boston’s fortunes in Game 1 changed in the third quarter when they went small. It’ll be interesting to see how effective Boston’s small ball is without Bradley.
Injury forcing Stevens to dig into his bench may help Hawks’ bench
I imagine Brad Stevens will insert Marcus Smart into the starting lineup to play alongside Isaiah Thomas in place of Bradley. I say this because Stevens likes bringing Evan Turner off of the bench to be that playmaker and creator in Boston’s second unit. Plus, he needs a quality defender to hide Thomas and guard Teague, so it makes sense to believe that Smart will be the man to replace Bradley.
Now that Smart (more than likely) is starting rather than coming off of the bench, expect the Hawks perimeter bench players — Schröder, Hardaway, Sefolosha — to see their offense come a little bit easier, now that Bradley is out of the picture and Smart a part of the starting unit. RJ Hunter will probably receive more minutes in Bradley’s absence, and the Hawks could look to exploit his inexperience.