From the very beginning, Avery Bradley was on his game — offensively and defensively. And then as the action reached tense moments in the fourth quarter, Bradley was on his game again — offensively and defensively.
Bradley completed his night with 21 point and, six rebounds. His menacing defense on dangerous point guard Trae Young also was paramount to the Lakers’ 134-118 victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Friday night at Crypto.com Arena.
Bradley opened the first quarter with 13 points, going five-for-six from the field and two-for-three from three-point range.
He had five points in the fourth quarter, going two-for-three from the field and one-for-two from three-point range.
Asked afterward what activated his offense, Bradley simply said it was his “defense.”
“It gets me moving. It gets me thinking,” Bradley said. “I think it just makes the game that much easier for me on the offensive end. But credit to Russell Westbrook and LeBron (James). They’re making the game a lot easier for me. I’m able to cut. I’m able to shoot open threes. Whatever it is, I’m just trying to play as hard as I can. And whatever shots come to me, make sure I’m able to knock them down.”
Bradley’s primary role was to slow down Young, and the Lakers’ guard did his part, helping to hold the Hawks guard to 25 points on eight-for-21 shooting.
But it also was Bradley’s offense that made his teammates take notice.
With the Lakers holding a 10-point lead late in the fourth, Bradley cut under the basket and scored on a layup off a pass from Westbrook.
Then with four minutes seven seconds left, Bradley sealed the game with a three-pointer off a pass from Carmelo Anthony.
“We want him [Bradley] being aggressive,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “Every time we shake hands before the game, we know what he’s gonna bring on the defensive side of the ball, but I’m always telling him be aggressive shooting the basketball, looking for your catch-and-shoots.
“He’s really helped us out in a lot of situations the last few games with cuts in late possessions where it looks like we’re stuck, and all of a sudden he’ll break free under the basket and that saved a number of key possessions in the last few games. And we want him staying aggressive offensively.”
The Lakers have won four in a row, and Bradley has been on a mini tear in the three games they have played in January.
He’s averaging 10.5 points, 3.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 2.0 steals. He’s shooting 61.5% from the field and 37.5% from three-point range.
“He never tries to do too much, never tries to do something he can’t do, and he literally gets the most out of what he does every single night, and for us it’s never about him making shots,” James said. “He brings a defensive intensity that everybody just feeds off of. Then when you have a game where he has 13 in the first quarter and he’s aggressive offensively, that’s all extra credit.
“That’s all extra that we love, and we always want him to be more aggressive offensively because he shoots it extremely well but it’s just, it’s a treat to have him.”
Earlier in the day, the Lakers guaranteed Bradley’s contract for the rest of the season. During the game, Bradley demonstrated why the Lakers made a smart investment on his $2.6-million contract.
The Lakers acquired Bradley off waivers on Oct. 18, one day before the regular season started. He had spent the 2019-20 season with the Lakers and was already familiar with them.
Now Bradley is starting and producing.
“We were able to pick up Avery, I think, right before the beginning of the season without much of a training camp and he hit the ground running with us,” Vogel said. “Obviously, having a little bit of a background in our system, being here a few years ago, played extremely well for us, deserved a starting role, brings that defensive presence but also playing really well offensively.
“Happy to see him get his deal guaranteed.”