BOSTON -- Celtics guard Avery Bradley certainly wasn't lacking a challenge when he took the floor for his first career start against the Phoenix Suns on Friday.
But the fact that two-time MVP point guard Steve Nash was in town was part of the reason Bradley got the call in the first place for the injured Rajon Rondo, who sat out to nurse a sprained right wrist. Defense was the priority against Nash and the Suns, and defense has become Bradley's calling card.
The end result wasn't what the Celtics were hoping for -- another frustrating loss, this time by a score of 79-71 -- but Bradley was able to impress his teammates, his coaches, and even his chief opponent as he scored 10 points on 5-of-9 shooting, to go along with four rebounds, an assist, three steals, and just one turnover in a career-high 33 minutes of action.
As usual, it was Bradley's defense that garnered the most praise in the aftermath.
"[Bradley] did a good job," Nash said. "He hustled defensively and made a few shots so he’s learning and he’s a young player, so it's great experience for him.”
Less than four minutes into the game, Bradley shadowed Nash closely on the left wing, and pounced as a skip pass sailed their way, intercepting it and racing the other way for a layup on the other end. That same intensity was present whenever Nash had the ball, as Bradley tried to force the veteran away from his desired spots.
Nash finished with 11 points and nine assists, but Ray Allen noted after the game that Nash's overall impact was diminished due to Bradley's efforts on the defensive end.
"I thought [Bradley] was definitely a bright spot out there because he put a lot of pressure on Nash," Allen said. "You could tell he got his feet twisted a little bit, because Avery was right in front of him every time he turned. He just always kept him guessing. It wasn't [Nash] picking us apart, because Avery did a great job on him."
"I just commend Avery for the way he came in and he put a lot of pressure on Nash and he got some steals, and he just made him work harder than he would have otherwise."
Bradley also had responsibilities on the other side of the ball, namely trying to keep together an already inconsistent offense intact with its chief operator sitting on the bench in a suit and tie. But Bradley did a credible job of masking any growing pains that were taking place throughout Friday's game. While not a seasoned quarterback by any means, Bradley's contributions on offense were rock solid, which was all head coach Doc Rivers could ask for.
“I thought he played fine," Rivers said. "I actually wanted him to be a little more aggressive. Avery, defensively he was, I thought, terrific. All night. I thought he worked as hard as you could work on Nash. You know, Nash is good. He’s still going to get it. But I thought Avery did a terrific job offensively. He doesn't see stuff, but he ran the team as much as he could. So I was really happy with him.”
Bradley was able to exorcise a host of lingering demons on Friday, chief among them garnering confidence in his jump shot and being able to call the appropriate plays for his team at the appropriate times.
"Throughout the game, I was calling plays and Doc was looking at me like, 'Yeah, that's the play that I wanted,' so that made me feel good that I'm feeling more comfortable and I know what Doc wants," Bradley said.
His jumper, which has been nothing short of erratic at times, fell more often than not, including with just over eight minutes remaining, when he cut a nine-point Phoenix lead down to seven by sinking one from the left wing. His confidence level entering Friday's bout was a hot topic, but never did Bradley look out of place alongside his veteran mates, which will be important in the immediate future, given Rondo's wrist ailment and veteran guard Keyon Dooling still out with a lingering knee injury.
"I felt comfortable starting the game," Bradley said. "I thought I would be nervous but I wasn't, because of my teammates."
"Rondo kept [helping] me throughout the whole game on the bench. He was helping me on defense, on offense. He was telling me things that I need to do and he was very helpful enough in helping me know what I need to do throughout the game."