Avery Bradley hasn’t appeared in many NBA games - 77 to be exact - but he has played enough basketball to know that some nights are just your night.
With shooting guard Ray Allen not available because of an ankle injury, Bradley made the most of his opportunity, getting the start and turning Sunday night’s game against the Wizards into his personal coming-out party. The second-year pro scored a career-high 23 points in the 88-76 victory, and sparked the Celtics in their brief return to TD Garden after an eight-game road trip, especially early, when he had 15 first-quarter points.
The right circumstances and the right opponent made for the right night.
“I was fortunate that my teammates were able to find me in transition and get me the ball,’’ Bradley said. “I think it’s just a confidence thing. I feel more confident out there, my teammates make me feel more comfortable. Sometimes I would go into a game thinking twice about shooting. Now, if I’m open, I’ll shoot it, and I’ve been making them.’’
He made his first seven shots on a dazzling array of backdoor layups, jumpers, a 3-pointer, and a dunk. Then, trailing a two-on-one fast break, Bradley wound up with a tipped ball near the basket when Brandon Bass couldn’t control a pass from Rajon Rondo. That layup, with 4:22 left in the first quarter, gave the Celtics a 21-8 lead; Bradley had 15 points, and was starting to sense it might be his turn to shine.
“Definitely, when you make shots like that you feel that way,’’ Bradley said. “I think I got back-to-back layups, and that’s when I knew if you play hard, especially when you’re on the floor with [Rajon] Rondo, the ball will find you.’’
Bradley’s previous high was 20 points, set nearly a year ago (April 13) against the Knicks.
His availability wasn’t a guarantee after he left Friday’s game at Philadelphia because of a left ankle injury. But he got the start in place of Allen - Mickael Pietrus is also out indefinitely, because of a concussion - and showed no adverse effects, playing a team-high 40 minutes and pumping life into the Celtics.
“He was awesome tonight for us. He gave us a big lift, with all the injuries that we have to Ray and Mickael, he was able to fill in at the two-guard role,’’ said Paul Pierce, who added 21 points. “We always tell him when he pushes the ball and attacks the rim, we don’t think anybody can stay in front of him. That’s something he has to do a little more of; he loses his defender on the backdoor cuts because he’s so fast, and he’s very explosive, he can go up and dunk those. It’s just good to watch a guy like Avery mature before your eyes over the last couple of years.’’
Wizards coach Randy Wittman wasn’t ready to anoint Bradley as the next star-in-waiting.
“I could have scored those layups. We didn’t have anybody guarding him,’’ Wittman said. “He ought to send us a postcard of thank-yous for allowing him to score. I’m sure he thought it was layup lines before the game.’’
Bradley, a first-round pick out of Texas (19th overall) by the Celtics in the 2010 draft, was limited to 31 games his rookie season because of injuries. He filled in for an injured Rondo earlier this season at point guard, but he’s far more comfortable at shooting guard. Comfort is one thing, confidence is another. Bradley came into the game shooting a respectable 47 percent from the field this season, but had made just 2 of 13 on 3-pointers.
“One of the things I’ve said consistently all year is that he can shoot the ball, and he was making me a liar for most of the year,’’ coach Doc Rivers said. “You see him in practice and he makes them, then he gets in the game . . . he just needed one to fall.’’
Nine fell against the Wizards, in 13 attempts. The 21-year-old from Tacoma, Wash. - he went to Bellarmine Prep, the same high school as Red Sox pitcher Jon Lester - might get more quality minutes Monday night in Charlotte against the Bobcats.
“I’ve just got to keep improving. Doc tells me things I need to improve on, not only him but my teammates,’’ Bradley said. “All I know is anybody that gets the opportunity, play hard.’’