Avery Bradley returns to action, and the Celtics need him for more than just stats.
Avery Bradley’s return to the court brought some uplifting vibes to an otherwise dreary night in the TD Garden. After missing 22 of 23 games, Bradley played 15 minutes on his rested Achilles, hit two of his four field goal attempts, and recorded three steals. While Bradley looked fresh in his return, he was upstaged by Jaylen Brown’s toughness, Dwight Howard being Dwight Howard, and Isaiah Thomas’ streak of scoring 20 or more coming to a screeching halt. Let’s talk about why Avery couldn’t have come back at a better time.
First, let’s talk about a tweet that was shown on the CSN broadcast before the game. It read something like this: “Jaylen Brown’s minutes should stay the same. Jerebko should play less.” I wholeheartedly agree with the first part, as Brown has been rapidly improving with Bradley out. In his first 36 games, Brown played about 13 minutes per game, averaging 4.9 points and 1.8 rebounds on 45% shooting. Since Bradley starting sitting out on January 7, Brown has averaged 21 minutes over 19 games played, and he’s averaged eight points and grabbed four rebounds in that span on 43% from the floor, and 35.9% from deep. Brown has scored in double figures in seven of his last 11 games, meaning he’s already leapfrogged most of the Celtics’ bench as a reliable scoring option off the bench.
As for that other comment, this is not the time to bench Jonas Jerebko. I realize that people are low on Jerebko since learning that he’s bad at playing with a mask on. Since breaking his nose on February 5, he’s shot only 23% from the floor, not including last night’s game against the Hawks. After shooting five of 21 in that eight-game span, Jerebko finally played mask-free and hit both of his field goal attempts. Of course, this is not my argument for playing him down the stretch, but let them man’s face breathe a bit before you count him out. As the Celtics play out the fourth quarter (*points at wrist*) of the season, it becomes more important that Brad Stevens knows what the playoff rotations will be. If we’re cutting minutes, one would have to think it’s Terry Rozier that loses out instead Jonas on a playoff run.
I’m just a guy on the internet, but I don’t see as much room for experimentation and development in the playoffs. Terry Rozier, simply put, is the weakest link. I think he could develop into a great player, I really do, but cutting Jerebko’s minutes in favor of Rozier would be riding the hype train straight off a cliff. Rozier gives up 1.037 points per possession, per Synergy Sports Tech, and that puts him in the ninth percentile league-wide. His 0.844 points scored per possession is in the 23rd percentile, which shouldn’t surprise you if you’ve watched him try to run the offense. If you’re one of those people who thinks we have a shot at signing Gordon Hayward, then you should find it important that the Celtics, even if they don’t win, make an impression in the playoffs that lures him here. If nothing else, the Celtics have an All-Star point guard and a lot of depth. There are no star players in this league that would voluntarily join a team with no depth, so let’s show off that depth to free agents instead of letting Rozier off the leash. If I’m Brad Stevens, I’m not banking on Hayward showing up, and I would have no problem letting Rozier run wild, but if the popular opinion outside of my own brain is to attract free agents, then Rozier’s minutes should be given back to Bradley.
Another friendly reminder the team got from playing the Hawks is that they are fully capable of guarding Isaiah Thomas. As nifty as he is, Isaiah was crowded above the three point line and swallowed by trees in the paint. Isaiah has vastly improved as an off-the-ball player, yet he still tried to hero-ball the Celtics out of a 15-point hole in a desperate attempt to score his 20th point and extend his streak. He was benched with 19 points after some questionable shot selection in the fourth quarter. It’s not often that Celtics games end with such hopelessness, given how close the games usually are. The Hawks, namely Dennis Schroeder and Dwight Howard, wanted to get into the Celtics’ heads, and I think it worked. Isaiah went from aggressive to flat out reckless on his way to shooting four of 21, although you can’t pin the loss on just him with only Jaylen Brown making baskets with any consistency. Nobody on this roster has an attitude problem, but that doesn’t negate the need for calm minds to maintain stability. Aside from the obvious stats, Bradley brings mental stability to the court, which the Celtics evidently need, given that they lost a chippy game with a rabid crowd on their own court. If “making the right play” was a statistic, I think Bradley could easily lead the Celtics in that category, and that would be in part due to his calmness and composure.
With Cleveland in town on Wednesday, things might have to get worse before they get better. Or, maybe the Celtics record a signature win. Either way, don’t let recent struggles or trade deadlines distract you from the big picture. The Celtics are competitive. Enjoy it.