CLEVELAND — Just six weeks ago, Avery Bradley was on the court at Quicken Loans Arena trying to upset the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round of the playoffs. On Thursday he was in street clothes taking in Game 4 of the NBA Finals, hoping to soak in the atmosphere for future reference.
Bradley and the Celtics played the eventual Eastern Conference champions tough in the first round but were swept, the final three games 8-point losses. While the Celtics competed with the Cavaliers and LeBron James, the players came away from the series realizing they could be on the cusp of Eastern Conference contention.
“Just being a fan, enjoying the game,” Bradley said just an hour before tipoff. “We wanted to enjoy it. It should be fun.”
Bradley has never played in an NBA Finals, drafted just days after the Celtics lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 7 of the Finals in 2010. He was injured when the team made its 2012 Eastern Conference finals run, losing in seven games to the Miami Heat, so there is a hunger to reach new heights.
“Of course, it does [give me motivation],” he said. “Not only that, seeing a team that knocked us out being in the championship, it lets us know how close we are. Every game [against Cleveland] was close and we had a lot of young mistakes that we can learn from and we’re going to be prepared for next year.”
This could be a momentous summer for the Celtics, who have four draft picks and salary cap space to upgrade the roster. Bradley experienced a mostly injury-free career season as the team’s shooting guard, the first of a four-year, $32 million deal.
“I’m excited, really excited, I think we’re going to do good, big things,” Bradley said.
Bradley participated in teammate Isaiah Thomas’s basketball tournament last month along with Kelly Olynyk and Phil Pressey. Former Celtic Gerald Green, along with boxing champion Floyd Mayweather Jr. were also in attendance.
“I’m telling all of my friends and all of my teammates if we continue to work and prepare for next year, anything is possible for us,” he said. “We made it to the playoffs this year and nobody expected us. Why not get to the championship? No one is expecting us to do it. Why not?”
Bradley has closely watched the series, especially the stellar defense Cleveland guard Matthew Dellavedova played on MVP Stephen Curry through the first three games.
“I’m not surprised with their coaching staff and their personnel, they just have winners on their team,” Bradley said of the Cavaliers. “All you can do is respect those guys how they’re out there playing.’’
Show of respect
One of the more touching moments in Game 3 was James bowing in respect to all-time great football player Jim Brown, 79, who was sitting courtside and later received a raucous ovation when introduced to the Quicken Loans Arena crowd.
“It was definitely impromptu, I was ready to get the game going and locked in and looked over to the sideline and seen him sitting over there and gave him the salute and respect that he deserves,” James said. “What he means to this city, what he means to this community, what he means to sports and myself is unprecedented and it was great to see him there.”
James, who considers himself a sports historian, said Brown’s impact on sports and society is not lost on him.
“For him to be here and what he means not only to sports but to the outlier of figures during his time,” James said. “Himself, Lew Alcindor, Bill Russell, Jesse Owens, Muhammad Ali. Those guys meant something more than just the sport they were competing in. I think we all should know the stories and them setting the foundation for guys that came after him and all the way to this point where I’m at today.”
With television ratings as high through three games as they have been since the NBA returned to ABC and interest brimming as to whether James can bring a title home to Cleveland, NBA players association executive director Michele Roberts had nothing but compliments about James, who for years has reigned as the face of the league.
“He could call it in, hands down, like him or hate him everyone says he’s the best basketball player on the planet,” Roberts said. “He’s working so hard. It’s inspiring to see someone work so hard when you don’t have to . . . He’s quite a role model.”
Roberts is also impressed with the atmosphere at Quicken Loans Arena.
“I’ve always believed postseason was spectacular. I’ve always watched the games but the atmosphere is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced,” she said. “The excitement is unbelievable. It’s great for the city.”
Gary Washburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.