Celtics notebook: Avery Bradley clutch at both ends of floor

March 2, 2017 GMT

Avery Bradley’s first big shot since December — an open 3-pointer from the top of the circle — melted through the net like butter with 1:09 left last night.

Isaiah Thomas had reached the paint, got trapped again and saw Bradley at the top of the circle. For some reason, after missing 22 games because of a strained right Achilles and only playing 15 first-half minutes in his return Monday night, Bradley felt grateful.

“Right after the play, I told him thank you for just believing in me,” Bradley (11 points) said of Thomas after the Celtics’ 103-99 win against Cleveland. “He looked at me like, ‘What? When two guys are on me, I’m always going to look for you.’ The fact he was able to make that pass to me and had confidence in me, that’s the reason I was able to make the shot.”

Bradley, who played 22 minutes last night, hadn’t played since the first 5:34 of the third quarter. But in the last 3:28 of the game — subbed in for Marcus Smart — Bradley not only hit the first big shot of his return, he locked down on Kyrie Irving, pressuring the Cavs guard into a miss from the right corner with roughly 15 seconds left and nearly coming up with an earlier steal that was ruled a foul.

He was playing pivotal minutes again and thriving.

“I have fresh legs. Me and my teammates were joking (that) I feel great,” he said. “I just want to go out there and play as hard as I can.”

Bradley picked a good time to bring his high level of energy.

“It’s a good feeling. That’s what I play this game for, to go up against the best players,” he said. “I know I haven’t been out there in a while, but hopefully I can still be mentioned for first-team all-defense. It’s something I take pride in.”

Mutual respect

Brad Stevens can’t exactly say he has a deeper relationship with LeBron James now that he’s coached him in an All-Star game.

He and James didn’t have time to do much more than wave to each other. Stevens attempted to break down the All-Star dynamic before James posted a triple-double last night (28 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists).

“We walk on the practice court, we throw up a few shots,” Stevens said. “The next day, we don’t see the players until we get into the locker room before they’re there for the game.”

But Stevens’ impression of James hasn’t changed.

“(But) just being around him very briefly, he’s as impressive as you would think,” Stevens said. “It’s a credit to him that he’s had the career he’s had.”

James returned the respect.

“We didn’t spend that much time together, but I’ve always been complimentary of coach Stevens, ever since he came into the league,” he said. “He’s a great young coach.”

Moving forward

Though a source told the Herald old friend Jared Sullinger might be considered for a job “down the road” if the team’s rebounding doesn’t improve, the Celtics appear ready to move forward as is. Despite losing out to Cleveland in the Andrew Bogut sweepstakes, Stevens sounds comfortable with what he has.

“I think you try to answer all those questions before you do something. There’s a lot of unknowns,” Stevens said. “If the Cavs add a guy or two and it doesn’t work out, it’s probably not going to be the end of the world, right?

“It’s easy to say what you think based on film or based on numbers, but until guys really get out there together, it’s an inexact science.”