A two game spurt was all that it would be this time. Bradley was almost immediately relegated back to being a bit-part player fighting for minutes and playing exclusively against inferior teams. Outside of a 22 minute display against the Portland Trailblazers, Bradley wouldn't crack 20 minutes on the court in a single game again until the 25th of April. Except this time when Bradley went into the lineup, everything was different.
Bradley wouldn't be relegated back down the totem pole again. Ray Allen, not Rajon Rondo, was injured this time with a sore ankle, so not only was he playing with Rondo, he was starting for the first time at shooting guard. Offensive struggles didn't exist, no turnovers marred his play and he hit every single free throw on his debut. Bradley was playing off the ball, but most importantly he was on the court...comfortably.
With Allen's sudden loss, Bradley was thrust into the starting lineup for the second time against the Washington Wizards. The opposition was the only thing familiar about his two 'debuts'. Bradley played 40 minutes, more than anyone else on the team. He scored 23 points, more than anyone else on the team. He shot over 55 percent from the field, more than anyone else on the team. He attempted and made four free throws, as much as anyone else on the team. He had just one assist, three rebounds and one steal, but he also had no turnovers and limited John Wall to 12 points on 5-17 shooting and nine assists.
This time Bradley's newfound time on the court wasn't met with looming question marks, it was engulfed in excitement. Bradley's problem wasn't that he couldn't be an effective offensive player, his problem was that he wasn't comfortable fitting into Rondo's role on a veteran team at such a young age. Bradley's skill-set is much better suited to being a shooting guard, even though he played point guard in college, and he immediately became an ever-present in the starting lineup from that point forward.
Ray Allen's absence allowed Bradley to play 40, 40, 43 and 38 minutes before he returned. Once Allen returned, he usurped Bradley for his first game back, but was pushed back into a sixth man role to accommodate the youngster.
Over the final month of the regular season, Bradley was not only a starting shooting guard for the Celtics but a pivotal piece of their playoff push. He averaged over 15 points per game in the month of April and shot 52 percent from the field and 54 percent from behind the 3-point line. But his statistical production wasn't what caught the eye. As Bradley's confidence grew, his comfort followed. When he found an adequate level of comfort, his aggression ratcheted to new heights. Bradley was routinely getting in the face of the oppositions' best scorers and forcing them into mistakes and tough shots.
Bradley showed a sign of things to come during a 115-107 victory over the Miami Heat, as he harassed Dwyane Wade all night to force him into a 9-21 shooting night. Once the playoffs began, Bradley stuck in the lineup despite battling shoulder issues. He helped the Celtics through the first round, but by the time they took the Miami Heat to a seven game series in the Championship round, his season had already been ended by a severe shoulder injury. Bradley's loss was seen as a major factor in deciding the outcome of a very close series.
A sophomore season that stuttered for Bradley came to a sudden close. His shoulder injury was so bad that it carried into this season and prevented him from playing the first two months of the season. Celtics fans had no idea if this latest sudden stop that had followed a fast start for Bradley was going to be the final one to decide his career. How he responded to this latest setback was likely going to define him, because he had failed to establish any kind of longevity at this level. Yes, he had been excellent for six weeks at the end of the season, but he had been excellent in shorter spurts before then too. Bradley's career was repeatedly getting caught on the tracks and it was time for it to either push through to speed away or give up and fall by the wayside.
Fortunately for Celtics fans, Bradley has emerged into a basketball player. A very impressive basketball player who has shown leadership, commitment and the confidence to kick his career onto the next level with the very best in the game.
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