- Chris Forsberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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Bradley spent time in the days leading up to Thursday's showdown with the Los Angeles Lakers watching game film of Nash. The 22-year-old guard was struck by how few opponents pressured the former two-time MVP, seemingly afraid to get shown up by his slick ballhandling.
With some encouragement from one of Nash's former teammates, Leandro Barbosa, Bradley made it his goal to make this a birthday to forget for Nash.
And he succeeded as part of Boston's 116-95 triumph over the Lakers at TD Garden.
"Nash is obviously one of the best point guards to ever play," said Bradley. "I just tried to make everything hard on him. He's not used to pressure. I was watching film on him and nobody pressured him. That was my main focus, trying to make everything as hard as possible. He's a great ball-handler, but I don't care. I care about getting stops, so I just go out and play as hard as I can."
Nash finished with a modest nine points and five assists over 27:44 and was minus-7 in plus/minus. He didn't turn the ball over, but Bradley was a constant pest and it left Nash willing to give up the ball rather than deal with Bradley more.
According to individual defensive data logged by Synergy Sports, Nash was 2-of-6 shooting for four points in possessions that finished against Bradley. Doc Rivers made it a point to single out Bradley's impact on the game.
"He just wore Steve Nash down," said Rivers. "He was killing us, Nash was, at the beginning [of the game]. But that relentless ball pressure, eventually Nash became a passer. And anyone would. That's just heart, and that's what Avery does. He's got the ability to just stay in there and defend, and he wants to."
Barbosa, Nash's backup in Phoenix, admitted he's rarely seen anyone do what Bradley did by picking Nash up full court and making him work whenever possible.
"Nash is a great player, I played with him many times, and I never saw somebody get up on him like Avery," said Barbosa. "I told Avery, 'Get up on him, don't let him play.' And he did a great job. I told some things [Nash] likes to do when somebody pressures him, and [Bradley] did a great job."
So how special is what Bradley does defensively?
"Very special. I don't think anyone in this league does what he does," said Barbosa. "He's very athletic and never gets tired."
Bradley was an underclassman in high school when Nash was winning consecutive MVP awards, but downplayed the idea of having to guard an NBA legend.
"I moved past that," said Bradley. "I obviously have respect for all those guys; I definitely have respect for everybody on that team. But once we cross those lines, I'm playing hard, trying to make everything hard on him."
And Bradley didn't stop with Nash. He got matched up with Kobe Bryant at times and was up to that challenge. Bryant did shake Bradley with a beautiful baseline spin move that forced Jason Collins to foul late in the first quarter, but Bradley would extract revenge.
On the final three head-to-head possessions against Bryant, Bradley forced a turnover and two missed 3-pointers. Late in the third quarter, Bradley caught Bryant delivering a lazy backcourt pass, picked it off, then went right at him under the hoop while muscling home a layup.
"I kind of baited him into that," admitted Bradley. "I tried to act like I wasn't going for it, then I got it. He was mad. He said something to me walking down the court."
Bradley didn't care. Maybe his most impressive attribute is how fearless he can be, even when going against superstars like Bryant and Nash.
Lucky for Bryant, his birthday doesn't come around until November. Chances are Bradley won't be invited to Nash's 40th bash.