Avery Bradley has yet to play 100 games in his career. He was overmatched as a rookie and barely in the rotation by the end of late March before circumstances out of his control changed his fate considerably.
With Ray Allen out of the lineup with an ankle injury, Doc Rivers turned to Mickael Pietrus for a game against the 76ers. Pietrus started but never finished. His head hit the floor with a sickening thud and he spent the night in a Philadelphia hospital after suffering a debilitating concussion. It was then that Bradley got his chance and the Celtics finished the season winning 14 of 19 games.
Bradley averaged 15 points a game while playing hellacious end-to-end defense during his late-season run and the starting lineup turned into a monster, outscoring their opponents by almost 20 points per 100 possessions. His rise was as shocking as it was sudden. Now, he's being asked to save the Celtics all over again when he returns on Wednesday from offseason surgery on both shoulders for their game against the Grizzlies.
The Celtics are reeling. They lost all three of their games on their West Coast trip by a total of 69 points and they were rarely in any of them. Their offense has been horrendous, but their defense has been even worse. Once again they are way too dependent on Kevin Garnett.
It wasn't supposed to be like this, of course. In the offseason, Danny Ainge moved quickly to sign Jason Terry and when Allen joined the Heat, he went all-in to acquire Courtney Lee, using every available resource.
The idea was that Terry and Lee would provide a comfort zone for Bradley to properly heal. Lee would serve as the de-facto starter and Terry would be instant offense off the bench. It hasn't worked.
Lee suffered through a horrendous shooting slump to start the season, forcing Terry into the starting lineup. While Terry's shooting numbers have been fairly consistent with his last year in Dallas, his attempts have fallen by four a game and his Usage rate has tumbled. Lee, meanwhile, has recovered somewhat in December but his defense hasn't been as advertised and he's making just 32 percent of his attempts from three-point range.
So, here comes Bradley. He won't do anything to fix their biggest issue, which is depth behind Garnett, but he should have an impact on their porous perimeter defense and allow Rajon Rondo to play off the ball on that end of the court.
This is a completely unfair position to put the 22-year-old Bradley in, but that's the story in Boston where the team's television affiliate has been running promos hyping his return like he's Michael freaking Jordan.
The underlying subtext is that with Bradley back, Ainge will be able to properly address his roster and perhaps swing a trade before the February deadline. Bradley is Ainge's best asset, but he may be too valuable to move. That's the hope anyway and it's the best one the underachieving Celtics have at the moment.
TEAM TO WATCH: Los Angeles Clippers
Now that we've all fallen in love with the Clippers, here comes the test of our devotion. Winners of 17 straight games, with many of them coming against the league's lesser lights, the Clips will travel to Denver on Tuesday and then face down the Oracle din on Wednesday. That's just a prelude to Friday's matchup with the Lakers -- technically a home game -- and a return date with the Warriors on Saturday.
TEAM OF THE DAMNED: Philadelphia 76ers
Even before the road trip from hell, the Sixers were taking on water. They have now lost 11 of their last 15 games since opening the season with a solid 10-6 mark, and it will only get worse with back-to-backs against the Lakers and Suns followed by a final set with the Thunder and Spurs. The good news, so to speak, is the Celtics and Nets have been treading water right alongside them. There is still time for the Sixers to get things right, but short of a triumphant return from Andrew Bynum it's hard to see where they go from here.
GAMES OF NOTE
MONDAY: Atlanta at Houston
What are we to make of the Rockets and Hawks? Before getting blown out by the Spurs and Thunder over the weekend, Houston had won seven of eight and the Jeremy Lin/James Harden backcourt was beginning to hit its stride. In the jumbled Western Conference, they have emerged as a team to be taken seriously.
The Hawks, meanwhile, have quietly hummed along with the third-best record in the East thanks to a strong defense and a better-than-advertised offense. Jeff Teague is often left out of the young point guard conversation, but he has come into his own in his fourth season. For now, both can be called intriguing, if not legitimate contenders.
TUESDAY: Clippers at Denver
The Nuggets began the season playing 22 of their first 32 games on the road. They're 9-1 at home and outscoring opponents by more than 10 points so it's fair to assume they'll make the most out of this next stretch that has them playing 15 of 18 in their building.
Danilo Gallinari finally busted out against the Mavs, scoring 39 points on just 23 shots and making 7-of-11 from behind the arc. He's crucial for a team that struggles in the halfcourt and desperately needs a shooter to create much-needed space.
WEDNESDAY: Memphis at Boston
THURSDAY: San Antonio at New York
It's the second night of a back-to-back and the fourth game in five nights for the Spurs. So ... your move Pop.
FRIDAY: Chicago at Miami
How have the Bulls managed to hang around without Derrick Rose? With defense, of course. Tom Thibodeau's crew is as nasty as ever, but they have also received contributions from their patchwork supporting cast featuring Kirk Hinrich, Marco Belinelli, Nate Robinson and Jimmy Butler. So far, the decision to cut ties with players like Omer Asik, Ronnie Brewer, CJ Watson and Kyle Korver in the name of the luxury tax hasn't hurt nearly as much as expected.
SATURDAY: Milwaukee at Indiana
Because someone has to win the Central Division.
SUNDAY: Charlotte at Detroit
The Pistons have become one of the league's idle curiosities thanks to the play of rookie center Andre Drummond. A monster on the glass, Drummond leads the league in offensive rebounding percentage and averaged eight and nine in 22 minutes a night during the month of December. Damian Lillard was the no-doubt-about-it front runner for Rookie of the Year in November, but with Drummond and Anthony Davis coming on strong, this race is just getting started.