OAKLAND, Calif. -- Over the thumping bass of the music blaring inside the visitor's locker room at Oracle Arena following the Boston Celtics' streak-busting win over the Golden State Warriors on Friday night, Isaiah Thomas kept repeating his sales pitch.
A couple of stalls down, Avery Bradley smiled and continued to dress, pretending not to hear his All-Star backcourt partner stumping for his inclusion in the NBA's end-of-season defensive honors. Celtics big man Jared Sullinger heard Thomas as he walked by and joined the rally.
Five hundred miles to the north, Portland Trail Blazers guard C.J. McCollum, who had gotten a taste of Bradley's on-ball defense just 24 hours earlier during Boston's visit to Oregon, echoed the sentiment while watching the Celtics and Warriors on national TV.
"Avery Bradley [is] the best perimeter defender in the league, and I don't think it's close," tweeted McCollum, ending his message with the hashtag #FirstTeamAllDefense. McCollum was repeating teammate Damian Lillard, who sought out Bradley after Thursday's game to tell him he thought he was the NBA's top perimeter defender.
Not that this sort of chatter is particularly new for Bradley. Back in late February, after he produced a game-saving block on Gordon Hayward during a win over the Utah Jazz, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge tweeted, "I just expect Avery to get stops. He's the best perimeter defender in the league."
It's been three seasons since Bradley made his lone appearance on the NBA All-Defensive Teams list, earning a second-team nod in the final year of Boston's most recent Big Three era. Maybe masked while Boston climbed back into the league spotlight was that Bradley has never stopped being a defensive menace while typically tasked with checking the opposition's top scoring guard.
With a star cast around him during his early days in the league, Bradley was able to distinguish himself on the defensive end and had the freedom to be more aggressive at times with someone like Kevin Garnett behind him. At the end of the 2012-13 season, we created the "Rip List" that chronicled all the star players in the league that Bradley had picked clean that year.
Bradley's role has changed a bit in the past three seasons. He is now Boston's most tenured player and has to shoulder more of an offensive load since the team moved Garnett, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo during this on-the-fly rebuild. The arrival of Marcus Smart in the 2014 draft and Jae Crowder in the Rondo swap has given Bradley some defensive-minded playmates on the perimeter. Now, when opposing players and coaches rave about Boston's defense, Bradley shares that credit.
But Boston's back-to-back this week matched Bradley up against two of the league's top scorers in Lillard and Curry (and, in his downtime, Bradley got to chase McCollum and Klay Thompson, as well). Bradley helped limit Lillard to 14 points on 3-of-16 shooting, while Curry was alarmingly quiet beyond a monster third-quarter outburst on Friday while finishing with a modest -- by his MVP standards, at least -- 29 points on 9-of-19 shooting.
Bradley and his cohorts forced Curry and Lillard to combine for 12 turnovers in those two games. Curry hit a barrage of third-quarter 3-pointers on Friday, but to avoid Bradley that sometimes meant pulling up from one step inside the midcourt logo.
Even before Friday's game, Warriors coach Steve Kerr said he agreed with Lillard's assessment that Bradley is the league's best perimeter defender.
"He just puts a lot of pressure on the ball. He’s got long arms, very quick feet and good anticipation. He knows what people are doing and he oftentimes jumps plays as they’re happening or before they happen," Kerr said. "So, I agree with Damian. I think Avery Bradley’s as good of an on-ball defender as there is in the league. I think that’s a fair assessment.
"And Marcus Smart is right there with him. I think it’s one of the strengths of Boston’s team is their perimeter ball pressure and their ability to disrupt plays and force turnovers."
For the season, the NBA's player-tracking data shows that Bradley is holding his opponents to 41.9 percent shooting, or 2.1 percent below those players' season averages. That's not a number that leaps off the page, but when you consider the quality of scorer that Bradley is tasked with guarding on a nightly basis, it only makes that number seem much more impressive.
And much of what Bradley does defensively is impossible to truly quantify. The in-your-jersey defense that forces his player to throw the ball away or Bradley's ability to race over a screen to prevent a 3-point attempt is hard to reflect in even the most advanced of available metrics.
But Bradley's teammates want to make sure he's rewarded at season's end when the league's coaches vote for the All-Defensive honors. They know how important Bradley is to a team with the fifth-best defensive rating in the league.
"[Bradley] deserves [the honor]," Sullinger said. "[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."