On Saturday night, the Boston Celtics' valiant second-half effort versus the Atlanta Hawks in Game 1 of an Eastern Conference Quarterfinals came up short. Despite being down 17 points at half, the Celtics stormed back in a big way after intermission. In the end, Boston was unable to finish off their comeback, and the loss of one of their best players raises serious concerns on their ability to beat the Hawks moving forward.
Amidst their ferocious comeback in the second half, Avery Bradley fell awkwardly while defending a Jeff Teague layup attempt. According to ESPN, the Celtics are already preparing for the devastating injury news that seems inevitable.Still, at this point, it's all speculation. Bradley remained hopeful about playing again in the series, despite the negative feelings that may have ensued given the situation.
"Bradley, playfully dubbed Mr. Optimism in this space because of his unfailingly rosy outlook, suggested he'd like to be back on the court for Tuesday's Game 2. Given the way he has bounced back from past injuries, you can't put it past him. But his limp, an impending MRI, and the obvious concern of his teammates suggested a more dire outlook for both Bradley and the Celtics."If Bradley's optimism turns out to be false hope, his absence would certainly be a crushing blow for Boston. For one, Bradley is the best backcourt defender on the team, and although Marcus Smart can handle the defensive workload as well, the Hawks present a difficult matchup. In Game 1, the challenge of containing both Jeff Teague and Kent Bazemore was revealed, as both guards dropped 23 points on the Celtics.
However, Boston's offense may take an even bigger blow than the Celtics' defense if Bradley has to miss time with his injury. Given Boston's current roster construction, Bradley is one of the few players on the team who can make a three-pointer. This season, Bradley has shot a career-high 5.8 three-pointers per 36 minutes, keeping the Celtics afloat in terms of offensive spacing. Despite the high volume of three-point attempts, Bradley responded with a healthy 36.1 percent from behind the arc. Additionally, Bradley coupled his shooting prowess with a unique ability to score inside, shooting 71.8 percent from zero to three feet according to Basketball-Reference.Even with Bradley on the court for much of the game, some of Boston's offensive limitations became observable on Saturday. According to NBA.com/Stats, the Celtics tallied an offensive rating of 95.9 points per 100 possessions in the contest, a mark well below their season average of 103.9 points per 100 possessions. Despite creating several open three-point shot attempts, Boston missed 24 shots from behind the arc. This difficulty is not a new one for the Celtics, a team that ranked near the bottom of the league in three-point shooting in the regular season. It is clear that Bradley provides the team with one of their only respectable shooters from deep, only deepening the potential blow of his injury.
Despite Bradley's production this season and how valuable his skills are to Boston's success, there may still be a glimmer of hope for the Celtics against Atlanta. After Game 1, The Boston Globe described several observations that could help Boston swing the advantage in their favor as the series unravels.
"There is reason for optimism and encouragement after losing to the Hawks at Philips Arena. The Celtics figured something out defensively during the first half, began attacking the basket in the second half, and were a couple of missed open 3-pointers from stealing a victory."Ultimately, Bradley's impending injury news has Boston's organization on edge for obvious reasons, even if Brad Stevens and the Celtics can build upon their second-half surge in Game 1.
[Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images]