MIAMI -- Maybe the signature play in Avery Bradley's NBA career happened back in April 2012 when, beat on a baseline cut, the then-second-year guard scrambled from behind for an emphatic block on Dwyane Wade at the rim during a nationally televised game.
Four seasons later, there's still something about Wade and the Miami Heat that brings out the best in Bradley. The just-turned-25-year-old guard -- tasked late in Monday's game with a slowing Wade -- sent Celtics fans tumbling down memory lane when he swatted Miami's 11-time All-Star in the final minute to stifle a Heat rally.
Bradley scored a team-high 25 points on 9-of-15 shooting while adding three assists, three steals, and the block in Boston's 105-95 triumph at American Airlines Arena.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens was trying to get Bradley, on pace to play more than 40 minutes, a brief rest when he subbed him out midway through the fourth quarter with Boston's lead about to climb into double figures. But Wade got hot and, after three quick baskets brought energy to the building, Bradley was sent back in after just two minutes on the bench and told to contain Wade.
On Miami's next offensive possession, Bradley blanketed Wade, twice denying him on attempts to drive to the basket. The second time, Bradley poked the ball free along the baseline and got fouled trying to break out the other way.
The Heat still were within striking distance with a minute to go when Wade took a dribble handoff high above the 3-point arc and accelerated toward Bradley. With help from Amir Johnson, Bradley halted Wade in the paint, but Miami's guard spun and arched as if he was going to attempt a fadeaway jumper. While he might have been simply trying to feed Chris Bosh around the basket, Wade's offering was swatted by Bradley before the ball's path could be defined (it went in the scorebook as a block) and Evan Turner corralled the rebound to ice the game.
"[Bradley] stepped up and played some great defense, and I think that deflates the other team," Turner said. "I think it deflated the crowd as well. He's hit plenty of big shots in his career, and he played great [Monday]."
Bradley didn't score over the final 9 ½ minutes of Monday's game, but he produced maybe the two most clutch baskets of the night. After Miami rallied within a point with little more than 10 minutes to play, Boston's next offensive possession fizzled. Bradley received the ball 30 feet from the hoop with four seconds on the shot clock and calmly dribbled once before launching a 3-pointer from roughly Coral Gables -- officially it went in the books as a 27-foot make -- over a leaping Gerald Green.
His final bucket of the night came a short time later after Miami again had crawled within a point. This time Bradley came off a Johnson screen, then cut back behind it to generate just enough space to deliver a 22-foot jumper (again with Green leaping to contest).
"He’s just been pretty consistent," Stevens said of Bradley. "Once he got back from [a calf] injury, I just think his pace is really good. He’s just at a good level. He hit huge shots when we needed them to kind of settle us down when things weren’t going our way and that place got rocking a little bit."
For the season, Bradley is averaging 16.1 points on 46.9 percent shooting (well above his career average of 43.6 percent). He's shooting a sizzling 41.8 percent beyond the 3-point arc (compared to 36.5 percent for his career). It's left some wondering if Bradley is on an extended hot streak or if he's made a true leap on the court.
The answer might be closer to the latter based on the first 18 games of the season. Bradley owns the best offensive rating among Celtics regulars at 103.8 points per 100 possessions. His net rating of plus-6.3 points per 100 possessions is the best among Boston's starters (only reserves Turner and Jonas Jerebko are better).
In the 10 games since returning from his calf injury, Bradley is plus-11.1 in net rating with an offensive rating of 105.7. He's averaging 19.4 points on 50.7 percent shooting in that span (to go with 2.1 steals per game).
The Celtics need this aggressive and efficient Bradley at both ends of the court, but especially on the defensive side, as was hammered home on Monday.
"On the offensive end, we necessarily didn’t have to make shots at the end of the game, it’s just always going to come down to getting stops on D-Wade, trying to slow him down, because he was making a lot of shots in a row," Bradley said. "We need to slow him down and we did a great job as a team and that’s what got us the win, to be honest."