Inside a euphoric visitors locker room at Oracle Arena, in the immediate aftermath of the Boston Celtics' streak-snapping victory over the Golden State Warriors in early April, Celtics All-Star point guard Isaiah Thomas decided to use the platform to champion teammate Avery Bradley.
"First-team All-Defense!" Thomas repeated multiple times in earshot of nearby media. Clearly his message was heard.
Bradley landed on the NBA's All-Defensive first team in voting released Wednesday. Not only was he the top vote-getter at the guard position, he finished with the third-highest point total overall in voting by a panel of sportswriters and broadcasters.
Bradley earned 62 first-team votes and 25 second-team votes for a total of 149 points. Only fellow first-teamers Kawhi Leonard (260 points) of the San Antonio Spurs and Draymond Green (251) of the Warriors had higher totals from the 130 voters. The Los Angeles Clippers tandem of DeAndre Jordan (137) and Chris Paul (148) rounded out the first team.
Bradley finished sixth in the Defensive Player of the Year voting by the same group of media voters and was the top guard in that voting, making it likely he'd land on the All-Defensive first team. Memphis' Tony Allen (121 points) and Chicago's Jimmy Butler (62) were the guards on the All-Defensive second team.
"In my eyes, the entire time I’ve been here, but really this year, [Bradley] stood out to me as first team All-Defensive guy," Stevens told Sirius XM radio earlier this month. "He's so good at putting pressure on the basketball. And he's gotten really good at defending both on the ball, which he’s always been great at, but then off the ball, navigating screens and making it difficult for guys to get the position they want. He had multiple games where we switched him onto big 3s, who tried to post him at the end of games, and he kept them from getting what they wanted. He’s really a good defender."
Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge called Bradley the "best perimeter defender in the league" in February (this after Bradley blocked a Gordon Hayward buzzer-beater to preserve a Boston win). Over the final two months of the season, everyone from teammates like Thomas to opponents like the Portland Trail Blazers dynamic backcourt of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum echoed that sentiment.
"[Bradley] deserves [the first-team honor]," teammate Jared Sullinger said in April. "[His defensive efforts] might not show up in the stat sheet, but the way he defends, the way he does so many things on the ball, how he affects the ball, he deserves first-team All-Defense."
The league's player-tracking data showed Bradley held opponents to 41.6 percent shooting overall, or 2.4 percent below their season averages. That's even more noteworthy when you consider Bradley was often tasked with defending an opponent's top scoring guard.
The Celtics missed Bradley's contributions at both ends of the floor after a hamstring injury in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference playoff series against the Atlanta Hawks ended his season.
Bradley, the longest-tenured current member of the Celtics, is still only 25 years old. He signed a four-year, $32 million extension with Boston in the summer of 2014, and he'll be a bargain for his role and production while earning $8.3 million next season as a looming cap boost will inflate salaries across the league. Consider this, too: The average salary next season of an All-Defensive first-teamer is $17 million.
Celtics swingman Jae Crowder missed a spot on the All-Defensive second team by a single vote while finishing with 47 points. Atlanta's Paul Millsap (97 points) and Indiana's Paul George (48) were the second-team forwards.
Celtics second-year guard Marcus Smart, a player likely to compete for an All-Defensive spot moving forward with his career, totaled seven points, which included a pair of first-team votes.