It would have been easy for pride to get the best of Brandon Bass. Then again, he’s never looked for the easy way out.
Over his three-plus seasons in a Boston uniform, Bass has had a courtside seat to the Celtics’ abrupt decline from a star-studded powerhouse in the Eastern Conference to a young roster enduring frequently painful periods of growth.
Through it all, Bass has earned and maintained the respect of his coaches and teammates — a consummate professional with his demeanor and work ethic, especially this season.
After starting 142 games the previous two seasons, Bass has yet to be a part of the starting five this season.
But whenever coach Brad Stevens calls his name, Bass has been ready to go.
It was much the same Friday night at TD Garden — Bass providing a significant spark off the bench. He finished as the team’s second-leading scorer with 16 points on 7-of-11 shooting, though Boston dropped its 11th contest in 14 games, 119-103 to the Chicago Bulls.
“It seems to me he’s having as efficient a year as he’s had,” Stevens said. “He’s playing great. He’s able to do some things defensively that helps you match up with second units that play small and he’s able to do some things offensively to take advantage of his skill set. He’s extended his range, obviously — that hasn’t shown itself too much this season — but he also has done a much better job at making plays for others.
“His game has risen and he is playing well. He’s accepted coming off the bench great. He’s been a great teammate.”
During his first three seasons with the Celtics, Bass averaged 28.7 minutes and 10.6 points per contest. In averging 18.5 minutes per game off the bench this season, Bass is scoring 8.9 points per game.
At that rate, if he played 28.7 minutes on a nightly basis, Bass would average 13.8 points. Including his 20-point performance in Friday’s loss, Jared Sullinger leads the team in points per game with 13.9.
“He’s been through so much,” said Sullinger. “If you look at Brandon’s career, coming in with New Orleans, second-round pick — should have been a first-round pick — working his way up through the league, he understands any given day can be your last day playing basketball. He goes out and gives it his all.”
Sullinger then noted that, as a young team, “we’re all learning from him.”
Part of Bass’s evolution has come in the way he sees the game. Big men are taught to use their size and strength to get points. As his role has shifted, Brass has learned the best option isn’t always closest to the basket.
Several times Friday, Bass read the situation and elected for the smarter, safer option. It was most noticeable late in the second quarter as he stood underneath the hoop with big men Taj Gibson and Nikola Mirotic attempting to prevent the easy bucket.
Instead of facing the double-team, Bass spun around and passed to Avery Bradley atop the key, who hit a silky-smooth 25-footer.
“He had a nice couple of kick-outs where he didn’t have a layup where he passed,” Stevens noted. “Bigs in general are always told to power it up. He does a great job for us with moving the ball now and I think that’s something he’s just continued to grow into.”
Bass still powered it up when needed. Three of his four field goals in the second quarter came on dunks. He took a feed from Jae Crowder early in the frame and flushed it for a 30-28 Boston lead.
Following a Bass jumper assisted by Marcus Smart, Bass got to the hoop to give the Celtics their largest lead at 52-46. He then capped his 10-point quarter with an alley-oop dunk served up by Bradley.
Bass hasn’t survived in the league this long by being greedy for minutes or cheers. He knows his role on the court.
“I’m just taking advantage of my opportunities,” Bass said. “I don’t get too caught up in the roles and what my role is.
“I just think that my role is to take advantage of my opportunities and help this team in any way I can.”