Isaiah Thomas is a guy people talk a lot about. His 26+ points per game. Isaiah’s heart. His small stature. He was an all-star last season and has brought his play up a notch this season. Avery Bradley has also been discussed a lot among Celtics fans. His year-to-year growth. Avery’s suddenly obtained ability to rebound the basketball. His other-worldly defense. His poise, calm, and three point shooting.
But not only have these guys been doing their jobs and stuffing the stat sheet as individuals, they’re doing it as a dynamic duo. All the while preventing opponents from sniffing anything close to their production. The Celtics starting back-court has been putting up points, rebounds, and assists in bunches. And preventing their opposing starting back-courts from doing anything close.
ISAIAH THOMAS AND AVERY BRADLEY ARE ON FIRE!
The duo of Celtics guards has been on fire.
Avery Bradley has been averaging 17.9 points and 8.0 rebounds per game.
For both of these guys, this production is well above their career averages. (17.5 Pts/G, 5.1 A/G for Isaiah, 11.8 Pts/G, 2.8 Reb/G for Bradley.)
That isn’t the only thing, they’ve both been turning it on in the 4th quarter. Isaiah Thomas is averaging 8.1 points per 4th quarter this season. Avery Bradley is averaging 4.9 points per 4th quarter, and shooting better than 40% from 3 in the 4th quarter.
AVERY HAS GROWN HIS GAME
Avery has improved tremendously this season as a creator. He’s now able to run pick and roll and execute pocket passes to rolling big men. He’s driving to the hoop more than ever. He’s developed a better handle than ever before, and he’s using it.
From MassLive’s Jay King:
Bradley is creating more of his own shots than ever, but still scoring at his most efficient rate in years. At times he has been used as a ball-handler with the second unit, a new role that accentuates all the strides he has taken. During a win against the Charlotte Hornets, he scored 10 points over a three-minute stretch in the fourth quarter, all while taking on point guard duties. This from a guy who never used to look comfortable when forced to initiate the offensive attack.
Bradley’s ability to create offense for himself and for others really helps this team. It’s sort of an essential part of Stevens offensive system, and it helps to have multiple guys who can handle the ball. With the way Avery is rebounding the basketball this season, it’s comforting to know he can bring the ball up the court and make something happen with it. Without having to look to dump it off to someone else, or making us worry about a pending turnover.
The fact that Bradley has been able to add so much to his game, and yet also improve his scoring efficiency, that is simply incredible.
CELTICS GUARDS SHUTTING DOWN THE OPPOSITION
For me the most impressive part of the back-court duo’s success this season hasn’t even been their production as individuals. Rather, it’s been their production when compared to their opposing counterparts.
A quick look through the recent game logs makes it painfully obvious. The Celtics starting guards are simply dominating their opponents.
Let’s look at a simple comparison of points scored by the Celtics combination of Isaiah and Avery, versus the points scored by the opposing starting PG and SG. We’ll mark IT+AB as “BOS” and use the team abbreviation to mark each opposing back-court.
That’s a pretty impressive stretch. You have to go back to the Golden State game to find the last time Bradley and Isaiah were outscored by their opponents in the back-court. And, well, they have Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. The reigning MVP, and certainly one of the 3 best shooting guards in the game.
The game before the Warriors game the Celtics played the Dallas Mavericks, and out-scored their starting back-court 48 – 22.
Avery Bradley has always been a defensive dynamo. Numbers might not reflect how capable Bradley is defensively. Often asked to guard opposing teams best perimeter players, and rarely given help afforded most other players.
Isaiah Thomas this season has been an interesting study in defensive impact and how it’s measured. Ask most anyone and they might tell you he’s a liability on defense. Yet, a quick look at those game logs above shows he isn’t exactly being abused by opposing starting guards. Not to mention over the last 6 games Thomas has a DFG% differential of -7.6 (Meaning, on shots he defends the shooters are shooting 7.6 percentage points WORSE than their season averages.)
Avery is collecting a little over a steal per game this season, and about 0.3 blocks per game. However, that doesn’t completely reflect his defensive impact. For example, his VORP or Value Over Replacement Player is 2nd on the team only to Isaiah Thomas. And he leads the Celtics in Defensive Win Shares. His ability to take on opposing team’s best perimeter players allows everyone else to settle into an easier role alongside him.
It is possible that these two will continue to post impressive defensive performances, as well as putting up points. The return of Al Horford and Jae Crowder has certainly made things easier on that end for the whole team. Not just Bradley and Thomas. If they can continue to shut down the opposition, good things will continue to happen for the Celtics. (Who are 3-1 in their last 4 games.)
This CelticsBlog article from 2013 shows how close Thomas and Bradley are. Avery and Isaiah started a game against each other, while Rondo was hurt and Bradley was filling in at point-guard. This was back when Thomas was on the Kings.
“Yeah that’s my guy,” Bradley said before Wednesday’s game. “Me and Isaiah have known each other since we were young. We’re literally from the same area, like lit-er-a-lly. His high school (Curtis Senior High School) is five, ten minutes away from my high school (Bellarmine Preparatory School).”
If Bradley referred to Thomas as “his guy” back when they were still competing against each other, I wonder how close they feel now. They not only grew up with each other, and respected each other as competitors, but now they’re partners in the Celtics starting back-court.
ON COURT CHEMISTRY
A great example of the chemistry these two share on the court came from the fourth quarter of the game versus the Dallas Mavericks. Isaiah Thomas found himself in a difficult situation, guarding the 6 foot 9 Harrison Barnes. Thomas was able to not only force an errant pass, but was also able to collect the loose ball. Streaking down the court, the only player in Thomas’ way was Dwight Powell. Yet Thomas dished the ball off to Avery Bradley for an impressive dunk.
Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge has admitted he’s uncertain where his ailing team might be without Thomas and Bradley stepping up like they have.
“I think that Isaiah Thomas and Avery Bradley are every bit the competitors that I’ve been around in my time with the Celtics. They’re fantastic competitors,” Ainge noted during his weekly call to Boston sports radio 98.5 the Sports Hub this week. “Those guys compete night in and night out. They’re one of the top guard tandems [in the NBA]. I don’t even know who’s better. But every night those guys give their all against every backcourt in the NBA.”
Danny Ainge is right. This duo of starting guards are ultimate competitors. You don’t make it from the last pick in the draft all the way to All-Star status without more than some competitive fire.
Maybe the chemistry Thomas and Bradley share shouldn’t be a surprise. The pair grew up just miles apart in Tacoma, Washington, and played for the same AAU team at different times. Their paths to the NBA were quite different — Bradley was a first-round pick of the Celtics in 2010 after just one season at the University of Texas, while Thomas was the 60th pick in 2011 after three years at the University of Washington — but they converged in Boston when the Celtics acquired Thomas from Phoenix at the 2015 trade deadline.
“It is something that should be talked about because it doesn’t happen that much,” Thomas said of the pair’s Tacoma roots. “Not just two guys from the same city making it to the NBA, but starting in the same backcourt. That’s something that doesn’t seem real.”
One thing is for sure, these two Celtics guards are both having career years. All the while shutting down the opposition more often then not. It’s hard to say whether growing up together or having great chemistry contributes in any way to their performance. But it isn’t hard to say they’re quickly becoming one of the best back-court pairs in the NBA.