Loss to Trail Blazers reminds Celtics how important Avery Bradley is

Loss to Trail Blazers reminds Celtics how important Avery Bradley is

Jan 21, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) gets fouled by Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart (36) during the second half at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Damian Lillard scored 19 of his 28 points in the second half. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

When coach Brad Stevens broke the news that the Celtics were going to face the Trail Blazers without their best back court defender in Avery Bradley for the second straight game, you knew the C’s were going to have their hands full against Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum — one of best guard duos in the NBA.  

The Trail Blazers, losers of five of their last seven games, entered TD Garden hungry for a win and earned a 127-123 overtime win against the Celtics behind a combined 63 points from Lillard and McCollum.  

McCollum scored a team-high 35 points on 11-of-21 attempts and Lillard finished with 28 points on 9-of-21 shots. 

The absence of Bradley in the back court is felt against scoring guards. Isaiah Thomas’ shortcomings on defense isn’t new, but what is starting to become a trend in games when Bradley is out is Marcus Smart’s inability to keep up with his defensive assignments and they were magnified against Lillard and McCollum. 

However, Smart’s struggles haven’t only been against offensively gifted guards. 

The Celtics have now dropped two straight games against the Knicks and Trail Blazers, respectively, and in both games, both teams managed to capitalize on their back court’s offensive production. Derrick Rose of the Knicks had a 2011 MVP like performance against Smart on Wednesday. He finished with 30 points on 13-of-24 attempts all from inside the 3-point arc, including 4-of-4 from the charity stripe. Rose danced with Smart all over the parquet floor and won the matchup that ultimately made the difference in the game’s outcome.

On Saturday, Smart spent most of his time on McCollum — who put on a shooting clinic by scoring a whopping 26 points — in the first half before switching over to Lillard. 

After Amir Johnson split a pair of free-throws that gave the Celtics a one-point lead (108-107), Smart committed a shooting foul on Lillard while trying to fight through a screen that resulted in Lillard making both attempts and giving the Blazers the lead with 1:16 left in the game. But one of the biggest defensive blunders by Smart came not when left McCollum open for an open shot that would have sealed the game, but when he committed an offensive foul on Lillard while trying to covert a put-back layup. 

Lillard’s free-throws gave his team a 113-110 lead before second-year guard Terry Rozier drained a 3-pointer to send the game into overtime. In the extra period, Lillard, the Blazers’ best scorer, had his way with the Smart and when he got lost behind a screen Jae Crowder was forced to pick up Lillard but it was too late. Crowder committed a shooting foul on Lillard, who completed a 3-point play that made it a two possession game (122-118). Seemed like Smart was always one step behind the dynamic duo while both Lillard and McCollum as they ran behind screens in and out of the post.
Smart, who behind Bradley is considered to be the second-best back court defender, has showed there’s a significant gap between the two on not only the offensive end but on both ends of the floor.  
According to Stevens, the Celtics could be without Bradley for at least another week. In that span, the C’s will certainly have their hands full against some of the most offensively talented guards such as Wizards guard John Wall — who they face on Tuesday, and MVP candidate Rockets guard James Harden — who they will host at TD Garden on Wednesday night. 

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Source: GreenStreet Blog

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