ATLANTA — The transition back to NBA defensive stopper and emerging shooting guard is going to take time for Avery Bradley.
His return to the lineup has produced solid defensive results for the Celtics, who have held three straight opponents under 100 points following Saturday night’s 89-81 victory over the Hawks at Philips Arena. Offensively, however, Bradley is still trying to find his range. He’s shot 8 for 26 in three games, with 16 total points.
Bradley was immediately inserted into the starting lineup upon his return from surgery on both shoulders and has played 62 minutes in three games as he tries to work himself into game shape.
While his shots aren’t consistently falling, Bradley said he may have experienced a breakthrough Saturday. He knocked down two jumpers that helped give the Celtics a 63-60 lead after trailing by 19 points in the first half. He continued to shoot despite early misses.
“The main thing is, when you’re having a bad shooting game, you gotta just keep your confidence up,” he said afterward. “[Rajon] Rondo and Paul [Pierce], they helped me stay confident in my shot and still stay aggressive and that’s what I did. And eventually I started making some shots.”
Coach Doc Rivers said he doesn’t expect Bradley’s offense to come quickly but he will remain in the lineup because of his defensive impact.
“I thought Avery set the tone [Friday], I just thought his defensive intensity, he used up so much clock on the other side for them to get into their offense,” Rivers said. “Their first pass was at 11 seconds, and it’s hard to score when you have 10 seconds to score every time down.”
Rivers said he is not concerned about Bradley’s scoring. “Because he’s probably not going to develop for three or four more games,” the coach said. “Or maybe even longer. The guy has been out all year. He had a shoulder injury, so I don’t expect him to be a great offensive player tomorrow.”
Bradley said the difference between the speed of a game vs. practice is a big one.
“The intensity level, that’s why you already heard coaches harping on how you should go hard in practice,” Bradley said. “It’s two completely different games. You’re closing out harder during games and then adrenaline with all the fans, it’s completely different.”
Rivers a fan of Hawks’ Smith
It was a difficult night for Atlanta’s Josh Smith, who finished with 12 points on 4-for-18 shooting with 10 rebounds and 6 turnovers. Despite his struggles, Rivers believes Smith is an All-Star-caliber player.
“From what I know, it just seems like he’s been a leader, a positive influence on the team, no emotional hijinks as we call it here, he’s just been phenomenal for them,” Rivers said. “I think we still forget he was young when he came into the league as well and it takes time, not in the basketball part but the maturity and leadership. So, it looks like he’s getting it.”
Rondo sees progress
Rajon Rondo was hardly thrilled after the Celtics snapped their four-game losing streak with a 94-75 victory against the Pacers Friday night at TD Garden. He is probably the team’s biggest critic, and he said the victory over Indiana had just a sliver of the intensity the team needs to display.
“It’s only one game,” Rondo said. “Defensively, it was a good feeling. We really didn’t score at all in the first quarter but defensively we got stops against a good team. For us to bounce back and get a win against a good team playing well [was good].”
Garnett in the clear
There was no further disciplinary action by the NBA against Kevin Garnett following his Flagrant-2 foul against Indiana’s Tyler Hansbrough with 8:24 left in the fourth quarter Friday night . . . The Hawks were without point guard Devin Harris (sore left foot) and swingman Anthony Morrow (right hip strain) . . . Chris Wilcox made the trip to Atlanta and ran sprints before the game, but he remains out indefinitely with a strained ulnar collateral ligament in his right thumb . . . The Celtics have until Wednesday to decide whether to guarantee the contract of big man Jarvis Varnado, who has played sparingly since joining the club Christmas Day.Gary Washburn can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @gwashNBAGlobe.