Bradley's Season Ended by Surgery

WALTHAM, Mass. – Doc Rivers announced prior to Friday’s practice that starting shooting guard Avery Bradley will undergo left shoulder surgery today and miss the remainder of the season. Team physician Dr. Brian McKeon will perform the surgery.

Bradley, a 21-year-old guard in his second year out of Texas, had become the starting shooting guard for the Celtics late in the season, replacing future Hall-of-Famer Ray Allen. Bradley took over the role strictly because of his defensive abilities, which have been lauded by opposing players and coaches alike.

Avery Bradley, Kevin Garnett

The final straw for Avery Bradley's shoulder finally arrived during Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
Drew Hallowell/NBAE/Getty

The impact that Bradley’s skills made on Boston’s defense was astounding for such a young player. He had played so well at the defensive end of the floor that Rivers recently called him, along with Kevin Garnett, the “defensive captain” of the Celtics.

That’s quite a statement considering the fact that Boston was by far the top defensive team in the league this season. In fact, the 2011-12 Celtics owned one of the greatest regular-season defenses in the history of the NBA. Bradley’s presence may have been the biggest reason why they were so dominant.

“What Avery did was he allowed us to be a great defensive team and put an individual on one guy and say, ‘Go shut him down,’ “ said Rivers. “But we don’t have that anymore.”

And that’s a problem.

The Celtics are heading into Game 7 on Saturday against a team that is built around its perimeter talent. Philadelphia sports a four-headed monster on the perimeter of Jrue Holiday, Andre Iguodala, Lou Williams and Evan Turner. Those four players are the team’s top four scorers in the playoffs and they combined for 55 of the team’s 82 points during Game 6.

It’s no secret that Philly’s top players have seen a spike in production since Bradley went out of the lineup following Game 4. They now have the freedom to be playmakers and attack Boston’s defense off the dribble.

Rivers says that without Bradley’s on-ball pressure, the C’s now must rely solely on a team effort to contain Philadelphia’s perimeter players.

“Now we have to go back to being just a great defensive team,” Rivers said on Friday.

Boston is more than capable of doing so, and its players are confident that they’ll live up to expectations. Still, though, with Bradley out of the lineup, there’s no doubt that the 76ers are much more comfortable heading into Saturday’s winner-take-all game.

“If I’m the [76ers], or any other team, the fact that I don’t have to play against Avery Bradley – I would sleep a little better,” Rivers aid. “Avery – nobody wants to play against him. Our guys don’t even want to play against him in practice. I mean, he’s a pain in the ass defensively.”

Ray Allen, who was relegated to the bench in favor of Bradley, echoed his coach’s thoughts.

“His defensive presence was disruptive,” said Allen, who has replaced Bradley as the starting shooting guard despite a painful right ankle. “Most teams that we played against all year, you start seeing teams shade against how he played defense.”

Bradley should be proud that he has turned himself into a player worthy of such comments. The problem is that all of those comments are now in the past tense. Bradley is gone from the lineup, and he’s not coming back any time soon. He may be able to provide an emotional lift for his teammates for as long as they last during this playoff run, much like Jeff Green and Allen did during the regular season, but he won’t be harassing opposing scorers with anything more than words from the sideline.

It’s a sad but true story for Bradley and the Celtics. Make no mistake about it: his absence will hinder Boston’s attempt to place an 18th championship banner in the TD Garden rafters. It doesn’t mean the Celtics can’t overcome his absence, but the journey just became much more challenging without No. 0.

What does make this scenario easier to ingest, though, is that this is one of those situations where the future is more important than the present. Bradley is a rising defensive star in this league, and the Celtics cannot jeopardize his long-term future.

This season isn’t an indication of Bradley’s bright future. Instead, it was an indication of his bright future. We may be forced to talk about Bradley’s efforts in the past tense for now, but if all goes as planned with his procedure, we’ll be witnessing his defensive dominance yet again just a few months down the line.