There’s nothing more exciting for a sports fan than a postseason Game 7.
If you’re one of these nincompoops going on about how weak this year’s NBA Playoffs are, with Golden State and Cleveland destined to meet for a third straight Finals rumble, please do me a favor. Shut up and learn to have an appreciation for this beautiful game in all of its nuance.
Yes, the Warriors and the Cavaliers seem to be on a collision course, but their trajectories over the last three seasons have been a gift that we haven’t experienced in terms of championship rivalries since the ’80s Celtics and Lakers.
By simply focusing on the league’s two best teams, you lose sight of so many other elements to the postseason that are worth savoring.
Tonight, the Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards lace ’em up for the deciding game in what has been an outstanding Eastern Conference Semifinals.
The Wizards are trying to reach their first conference finals since the days of Bobby Dandridge, Elvin Hayes and Wes Unseld, when the franchise was known as the Bullets during the ’78-’79 season.
Boston, playing at home, is aiming for its first conference finals appearance since 2012, the last days of those Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett-led squads.
This series has showcased two of the most exceptional young backcourts in today’s NBA.
Washington’s John Wall and Brad Beal have averaged 27.9 and 23.8 points per game respectively in this year’s playoffs. Beal scored 33 points in Game 6, and Wall finished with 26, including the game-winning 3-pointer with 3.5 seconds remaining that sent this series to a Game 7. The dynamic duo combined for 23 of Washington’s 26 points in the back-and-forth, exhilarating fourth quarter.
On the other side of the ledger, the majority of the national attention has been focused on Boston’s diminutive wonder of a point guard, Isaiah Thomas. The tragic circumstances of his sister’s recent passing, in addition to his remarkable season that saw him emerge as one of the NBA’s best players, have people who can’t stand the Celtics quietly rooting for him.
Thomas has averaged 29 points and six assists per game this year, and when you watch Boston play, it’s hard to take your eyes off of him.
The various narratives emanating from this series have mostly revolved around Wall, Beal and Thomas. But it’s about time that people outside of the basketball purists that know what they’re watching give props to the less-heralded, but just as sensational Avery Bradley, who is just as important to Boston’s success as Thomas, head coach Brad Stevens and that damn leprechaun.
If this is your first time taking an extended look at Bradley, welcome to the party. But you’ve arrived late. The problem with today’s basketball fan is, other than watching players put the ball in the bucket, they have no idea what they’re watching.
Bradley has been the league’s best perimeter defender for years now. He plays with a tenaciousness, focus and acumen that is appreciated by his peers in ways that escape the casual fan.
Avery Bradley the best perimeter defender in the league and I don’t think it’s close. Him and chief #firstteamalldefense
CJ McCollum (@CJMcCollum) April 2, 2016
The six-year vet walked into the league at 19 years old after being drafted with the 19th overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft out of the University of Texas. Despite the fact that his offense was a work in progress, he was elevated to a starting role during his second pro season because of his ability to guard the league’s most potent perimeter offensive weapons.
Bradley has poured in 56 points over the last two games against the Wizards, and as his offensive repertoire catches up with his defensive mastery, he’s looking more and more like a young Joe Dumars.
Although he’s still only 26 years old, the Celtics shooting guard has been through some postseason wars in ways that most of the Wizards and his teammates have not.
He didn’t come into the league with a sense of entitlement, and was schooled in the competitive winning tradition as a rookie, learning the nuances of his position and what being a true professional was all about from Ray Allen. Bradley didn’t play much as a rookie, but learning from Allen, Rondo, Pierce, Garnett and then-head coach Doc Rivers on a 56-win team three years removed from winning the NBA title against the Lakers was invaluable.
He absorbed the championship work ethic while walking into a situation where the Celtics had lost in the Finals to the Lakers the year before. During his second season, he gave a glimpse of what was to come while dropping 28 points in a late April game against the Hawks. Defensively, he shocked and amazed with his prowess, exemplified by the authoritative blocks he administered to Dwyane Wade and Russell Westbrook.
In the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals, Bradley experienced the pain of that Game 7 loss to LeBron James and the Miami Heat after Boston led the series three games to two, despite having to sit out with a shoulder injury.
“I think our mindset in 2012 was just to leave everything out there on the floor,” Bradley told the Boston Herald. “…We werent gonna settle. We werent gonna say, OK, we accomplished our goal. We made It to Game 7, it really doesnt matter if we win or not. Because to me, thats what its all about. What team really wants to go onto the next round. Its either go on vacation or leave everything out there on the floor, and thats what Im going to do. Thats how Im going to play (now).”
There’s extra motivation heading into tonight’s game for him other than the focus on Wall, Beal and Thomas.
Watch Bradley after every made three-pointer, and you’ll see him raise a hand to the sky in honor of his mom. Alicia (Lisa) Jones-Bradley passed away in 2013. With Mother’s Day weekend still fresh in his mind prior to tonight’s tip off, that adds an extra element to his drive.
Its tough, Bradley told Comcast SportsNet New England on Sunday. My moms birthday was May 11, too. Its hard. At the same time, Im blessed to have my beautiful family, blessed to have this opportunity to go out and play for her, play for my family.”
So when you’re watching the game tonight, set aside the idiotic talk about today’s NBA not being competitive, and the moronic blabber of “the narrative” being fixed, of LeBron being handed a cakewalk to yet another NBA Finals appearance. Not only is it far from the truth, it’s really just lazy and dumb.
You want to see some great basketball that doesn’t involve the front-runners? Check these young boys in the Wizards and Celtics backcourt. And don’t fall for the banana in the tailpipe about how Wall, Beal and Thomas are the only headliners of the show.
If you want to see someone competing at the game’s highest level, watch Avery Bradley leave it all out there on both ends of the court. His colleagues are indeed exceptional. But he’s every bit the future of the funk as well.