BOSTON (CBS) – When Jae Crowder hit a go-ahead 3-point shot to cap Boston's 19-point comeback and give the Celtics their first lead of the game midway through the fourth quarter, few noticed a hobbling Avery Bradley trailing the play. The shooting guard had just pulled up lame with a strained hamstring after landing awkwardly when defending a Jeff Teague attempted layup on the other end of the floor.
The 25-year-old was attempting to get the attention of the Celtics bench when Crowder nailed the critical jumper, but with no stoppage in play, Bradley was forced to give a foul before crumbling to the floor in pain. He was helped off the floor and diagnosed with a strained hamstring by trainer Ed Lacerte, but the news on his status just got much worse on Sunday.
Brad Stevens confirmed to reporters at today's practice in Atlanta that Bradley had suffered a pretty significant strained hamstring and was "very unlikely" to play for the remainder of the series.
From Boston's standpoint, Bradley's injury was probably the most crucial sequence of the game, and potentially the series. The Celtics had outscored the Hawks 49-29 in the second half prior to Bradley's injury, finally finding its rhythm by hitting some open shots and going with a smallball lineup to combat Atlanta's speed and athleticism up front.
Without one of Boston's best shooters and defenders available over the game's final six minutes, the Hawks stemmed the tide and outscored the Celtics 22-18 the rest of the way, enabling them to escape Game 1 with a 102-101 victory.
While the Celtics fumbled away a critical opportunity of a much-needed road win in Atlanta, the main focus after the game in the Celtics locker room was the health of Bradley, who had scored 18 points before he went down.
"A hamstring is nothing to play with," Jae Crowder said Saturday night to MassLive. "He's a fast type of guy so he needs his hamstrings as much as possible. I don't know how serious it is."
Marcus Smart, who delivered a terrific second half performance in the near-comeback will likely be the man to step into a starting role if Bradley is unable to suit up for the remainder of the series. After the game though, he was not embracing that opportunity though.
"First off, nobody wants to step into that role because somebody else got hurt," Smart said. "We lost a brother. That hurts us. But we understand what we're playing for. It's time for other players to step up. If that means I've got to step up with a little bit more responsibility, then that's something I'm willing to take on.
"And my teammates have been really good; when I have responsibilities like that they trust me with it. And the coaching staff. I just have to go out there and do everything that I can and that I know to do, and that's just keep playing hard. And everything will work itself for this team."
The question now is who Stevens will look to in Bradley's absence besides Smart. The team committed to small ball for the majority of Game 1, but the team's depth chart takes a serious hit on that front with Bradley out of the fold. Youngsters like R.J. Hunter and Terry Rozier may be asked to step in and play minutes off the bench if Boston wants to commit to that style of play. Otherwise, veterans such as Evan Turner or Smart will be leaned on for heavier minutes, a challenging request against a top-rated Atlanta defense.
Stevens has two days to answer those questions before Game 2 in Atlanta on Tuesday night. In the meantime, the rest of Boston's roster can only wish for a miraculous recovery from Bradley after seeing him leave the arena with the aide of a cane on Saturday night.
Brian Robb covers the Celtics for CBS Boston and contributes to NBA.com, among other media outlets. You can follow him on Twitter @CelticsHub.
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