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Doc Rivers on loss of Jared Sullinger: ‘We’ll have to play differently again’

02.01.13 at 7:18 pm ET
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Celtics coach Doc Rivers says his team will have to play more small ball now that big man Jared Sullinger is lost for the season to lumbar disc surgery in his back, surgery that took place Friday at New England Baptist Hospital.

While the news was somewhat surprising to outsiders on Friday, the Celtics knew all along that this was the risk of drafting Sullinger, who missed nearly half of his final (sophomore) year last winter with Ohio State, a team he led to the Final Four. Sullinger’s bad back dropped him on draft day last June and the Celtics took the gamble, taking him 21st overall.

“We knew this could happen,” Rivers said. “We knew it a month before the draft that this could happen and at some point it probably would happen. We were hoping it would be a summer thing, rather than the middle of the season, but it happened now. He was playing great and the good news is we know he can play. We know he’ll be a very good player and, in the long run, this will make him healthier.”

As for Rivers’ reaction to the news, “My emotions are to the team, I have to give them that. I told them after shootaround. Our goals haven’t changed, nothing’s changed. We will have to play differently, again.”

Rivers said he would use more of a “small-ball” approach, like the Magic and Knicks already do in the East. Rivers also inserted Brandon Bass back in the starting lineup and hinted that he would use Jeff Green more at the power forward spot, with the following caveat.

“It’s probably not fair but I’m going to lean more on Jeff to do more rebounding,” Rivers said. “When he’s rebounded for us, he’s played well.”

“I think we’re still working on what we may have to do. But I think we definitely have to be a small-ball team. We’ll start big, as usual with Brandon and Kevin [Kevin Garnett] — I don’t know if that’s big, but that’s how we’ll start. After that we just have to put our five best players on the floor, so we’re going to have to be creative.”

As for leaning on rookie center Fab Melo, don’t expect Rivers to be using the Syracuse product, meshing with what Danny Ainge told reporters before Friday’s game.

“I know how people here love the young guys — love to see the young guys,” Rivers said tongue-in-cheek. “I’m sure at some point, Fab will find his way on the floor. Obviously, I think you try to give him as much as he can handle. You do try to put him in situations like when he’s on the floor, Kevin’s on the floor with him to help him.”

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