Avery Bradley’s Clippers career began with a here-today, gone-tomorrow debut last season that was derailed by injuries. Then came a severe shooting slump to begin this season. An ankle injury sidelined him six games this month.
Through it all, Clippers coach Doc Rivers staunchly supported the 27-year-old shooting guard. If Bradley at times this season didn’t look like the player Rivers knew, the coach believed it was only a matter of time before Bradley’s form returned.
The time arrived in Saturday’s 112-107 victory over Memphis, when Bradley scored 13 points, making five of his eight field-goal attempts, with three assists and two rebounds and the game-winning stop in overtime.
“I hope it’s a game that can get me going,” Bradley said, “and give me some confidence.”
Rivers said he never lost his in Bradley.
“He’s a gamer,” Rivers said. “He’s one of the best in the league and you just know eventually his offense is going to come. But it’s just going to take time and I’m patient with that.”
More than any other word, patience describes the last eight months since Bradley was traded to Los Angeles.
He missed 25 games because of injury before a season-ending surgery last season. Rivers, who coached Bradley three seasons in Boston, will tell anyone who will listen that he considers Bradley the team’s best defender and has vowed to stick him on any opponent’s best scorer the rest of this season. Yet in a change for Bradley, the Clippers haven’t asked him to carry as much of a load on offense. As it is, Bradley has struggled with consistency, shooting 37.8% from the field, and 22.6% from three-point range.
“It’s a new role, being the main offensive guy on other teams and coming here and being more of a defensive role,” Bradley said. “It’s just an adjustment and something I have to make and figure my way out.”
Bradley may want to become more of a factor on offense but right now his best value comes defensively. The Clippers had hopes of being a top-10 defensive team this season and began encouragingly, ranking sixth in defensive rating in October. Yet with Bradley and another top defender, Luc Mbah a Moute, out while injured the Clippers slipped to 23rd in games played in November entering Friday’s matchup with Memphis. The Grizzlies torched L.A. in the first half, shooting 53%, and All-Star guard Mike Conley scored 14 of his 19 points on possessions in which he was guarded by Bradley.
Bradley had the last laugh. He drew Conley’s sixth foul with less than two minutes remaining in regulation and finished an even more important stop with five seconds remaining in overtime. Knowing Memphis’ Garrett Temple was running out of options and would need to gather his dribble and go up for a game-tying three-point attempt, Bradley anticipated Temple’s jump shot and shot his hands forward as Temple jumped, wrestling the ball out of his grip.
“A lot of people would say it’s a gutsy play, but I felt like my chances were good,” Bradley said. “My hands were fast enough and he put the ball out there enough for me to make the play, so I went for it.
“My mind-set on defense is just like an offensive player. You’re trying to attack and set up moves that you can make on a defender and that’s how I look at it as a defender. I’m trying to attack you into certain moves to my advantage.”
Had Temple had more than five seconds to make a play, he surely wouldn’t have tried such a shot, Clippers reserve Sindarius Thornwell said. Opponents are shooting 27.2% on Bradley between 20 and 24 feet this season, right at the three-point line.
“The worst thing you can do is show [Bradley] the ball,” Thornwell said.
During practices, Thornwell half-joked, he can be “scared to dribble sometimes” facing Bradley, to the point he places his body between the ball and Bradley, as a shield.
“He’s like a magnet,” Thornwell said. “He sticks to you.”
Rivers stuck with Bradley despite his frustrating up-and-down start to the season and the move paid off Friday.
“He’s been in a lot of big games in his life,” Rivers said. “He’s a defensive star, he really is.”
When: 6 p.m. Sunday.
On the air: TV: Prime Ticket; Radio: 570, 1330.