BOSTON -- The Boston Celtics suspected the Utah Jazz were going to put the ball in the hands of Gordon Hayward. In fact, trying to stay a step ahead, the Celtics matched up for a late-game possession with Avery Bradley guarding the bigger Hayward while anticipating a possible pick-and-roll that would have allowed Boston to switch Jae Crowder onto Utah's star forward.
The pick-and-roll never happened, and Hayward instead elected to take advantage of the six-inch height advantage he possessed over Bradley. Fortunately for the Celtics, Bradley had anticipated this might happen and embraced the challenge of defending the opposing team's star in a one-point game with less than 30 seconds to play.
So the 6-foot-2 Bradley offered resistance when 6-foot-8 Hayward started backing him down toward the blocks. Bradley stayed close to Hayward's right hand, figuring it was his best chance to contest if Hayward went up. A little shoulder fake created a bit of separation, but Bradley recovered and leaped high enough to not only contest, but completely smother the turnaround shot attempt.
"He timed it really well," Hayward admitted. "It was a good play."
Seemingly surprised by the block, Hayward fumbled the ball as it caromed back at him. Crowder corralled the fumble and fed Bradley, who got fouled going up the court, and the Celtics hung on for a 100-95 triumph over the Jazz at TD Garden.
"I love to take that challenge, to be able to get a stop for our team, because I want to win the game that bad," Bradley said. "I’ll guard anybody for my team.
"I was just trying to play great defense. I knew they were going to go to [Hayward]. I just wanted to make it hard on him and not foul him. That’s what I did and I was able to get the block, read the play."
On the play before Bradley's block, Crowder took a kickout pass from a driving Isaiah Thomas and drilled the go-ahead 3-pointer. A fortuitous video review had allowed coach Brad Stevens to sketch up a play, and it produced Crowder's open look from the wing. But it wouldn't have mattered if Utah had scored on the next trip down and Bradley hadn't come up with his latest big-moment block.
"We all know Avery is a [great] defender in this league," Crowder said. "He’s proven it over and over again. We actually thought they were going to run an action with a 1-3 pick-and-roll, and we were going to switch it with me on Hayward, but Avery stood his ground and got ahead of it. It was a good block."
As Thomas added, "It was big. We needed a stop. We know that's their go-to guy down the stretch. He got a stop for us. That was probably the biggest play of the game, other than Jae's shot and Amir [Johnson] getting an offensive rebound on the free throw. Those are the plays we need guys to make."
Bradley actually missed the second of two free throws, keeping Boston's lead at two with 16 seconds to play. But Johnson managed to stealthily swoop in and steal the rebound. It led to two more freebies for Bradley, who made them both to put the game away.
Still, the block was the highlight of the night, given the way Bradley battled despite giving up height.
"We got Gordon the ball and he got to his spot where he's pretty effective, and Bradley made a heck of a play," said Utah coach Quin Snyder. "Obviously, that free throw rebound when we were in position to have a chance to make another [hurt]."
Blocks have, maybe surprisingly, been some of the more memorable moments of Bradley's NBA career. His most famous play might be from 2012, when Bradley emphatically blocked Miami's Dwyane Wade at the rim while recovering on a baseline cut. Bradley had another late-game block on Wade in December to preserve a win over the Heat.
Asked if Monday's block reminded him at all of the famous Wade swat, Bradley downplayed the comparison.
"No, but I am happy we got the win," he said. "Utah’s a very good team. And they fought us hard the entire game, and it just shows how mature we’re becoming as a team. We’re able to close out games like this. That means a lot to me. It shows how much we’re growing."
The Celtics, winners of 11 straight at TD Garden, trailed for much of the first three quarters before a back-and-forth final frame. The Celtics blocked 13 shots on the night -- nine players registered at least one swat -- and even Stevens admitted he didn't expect that against Utah's long and athletic frontcourt.
But after Boston forgot to bring its defense out West in an ugly national TV loss to Utah earlier this month, the Celtics recovered by leaning on their defense on Monday night. From afar, as he scouts for possible talent to add to Boston's young roster in June's draft, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge had faith Bradley would make the late-game stop.
"I just expect Avery to get stops," Ainge tweeted. "He's the best perimeter defender in the league."
His interior defense apparently isn't bad either.