|Rethinking the Rajon Rondo-Jared Sullinger combo||03.27.14 at 10:24 am ET|
Rajon Rondo told Brad Stevens he would like to play alongside Jared Sullinger “as much as possible,” but the Celtics captain and his coach don’t appear to be on the same page on this one, considering the sophomore big — probably the team’s second-best player at this point — hasn’t started a game for more than a month.
“I like playing on the court with Sully,” Rondo said after the C’s 99-90 loss to the Raptors. “I told Brad I wanted to play with Sully as much as possible. Not a knock on any of our other bigs, but one thing that Sully does that doesn’t show up on the stat sheet is he’s probably the best outlet passer we have.”
With respect to his encouragement of Sullinger’s 3-point shooting, Stevens admitted, “I’m not as much an analytics guy as everyone portrays me to be,” but the numbers support his coach’s hesitancy to pair the two more often.
The Celtics average 29.9 defensive rebounds, 23.2 assists and 98.8 points per 100 possessions while scoring 10.8 percent of their points on the fast break with Rondo and Sullinger paired on the court. To put that into perspective, the C’s average 33.3 defensive rebounds, 26.8 assists and 101.4 points per 100 possessions while scoring 18.7 percent of their points on the fast break with rookies Phil Pressey and Kelly Olynyk sharing the floor. Rondo and Sullinger are a minus-47 over 431 minutes; Pressey and Olynyk are a plus-21 over 418.
|Fast Break: Raptors claw Celtics, Rajon Rondo ends up in stitches||03.26.14 at 9:46 pm ET|
At the end of the third quarter, Rajon Rondo was getting stitches on his face, Jared Sullinger was 3-for-11 from the field and the Celtics trailed by 15. They never quit — far from it — but still suffered a seventh loss in their last eight games, 99-90 to the Atlantic-leading Raptors. (Yes, the ones from Toronto are winning the division.)
Rondo (9 points, 15 assists) returned from an elbow to the face in the fourth quarter, and Sullinger (26 points, 8 rebounds) totaled 19 points on just six shots in the final frame, but the C’s (23-48) couldn’t erase a double-digit Raptors lead. Avery Bradley (16 points) and Chris Johnson (13 points) also reached double figures.
The Celtics are currently tied for the league’s fifth-worst record.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Closing second: After regaining the lead with five minutes to play before halftime, the C’s defense fell apart. The Raptors converted their final six shots of the half, raising their field goal percentage from 40.6 to 50.0 at the break. Toronto’s nine-point halftime lead rapidly reached double digits early in the third quarter.
Interior defense: Back-to-back relatively uncontested Jonas Valanciunas third-quarter buckets punctuated a putrid night defensively for the Boston bigs and forced a Brad Stevens timeout. Out-rebounding the Celtics and outscoring them in the paint, Toronto’s starting frontcourt combined for 36 points and 16 rebounds in the first 30 minutes as the Raptors built a 68-54 lead midway through the third.
In stitches: A horrific third quarter only got worse when a Greivis Vasquez elbow split open Rondo’s face between his eyebrows. Replaced by Phil Pressey 5:42 into the frame, Rondo received nine stitches before returning to the bench with a bandage on his face a couple minutes into in the fourth quarter. He returned with 8:05 left.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Mondo Rondo: The Celtics captain singlehandedly kept them in the game through the first 15 minutes. He had his hand in their first eight field goals (2 layups, 6 assists). A couple Green drives broke up Rondo’s perfect start, but he got right back to work. When Rondo took his first breather 3:09 into the second quarter, he had impacted 13 of the C’s 15 field goals (3 layups, 10 assists), and they led 35-33.
Johnson on the rise: As he has for much of his brief Celtics tenure, Chris Johnson made the most of his minutes. Checking in for Green, who submitted the prototypical Jeff Green performance, Johnson was everywhere. In 10 second-quarter minutes, he converted a 3-pointer, a pull-up 8-footer and a fast break layup while halting DeMar DeRozan‘s fast start (including a highlight reel chase-down block after Kelly Olynyk failed to convert a 3-on-1). Johnson’s effort anchored a 13-0 run that erased a double-digit Raptors lead early in the second quarter.
Sully late: After finishing 0-for-3 in the first quarter and scoring only seven points through three quarters, Sullinger erupted in the fourth. He made three consecutive 3-pointers to cut Toronto’s lead to four in the final minutes.
|Jared Sullinger has chip on his shoulder as he heads into All-Star break||02.13.14 at 12:28 pm ET|
An athlete can take anything and use it as motivation.
Sometimes it’s just for a game or a season but listening to Jared Sullinger after the final game before the All-Star break Wednesday night, being snubbed in the 2012 NBA draft is having a lingering effect.
With concerns over his back, which required surgery in his rookie year, Sullinger fell to No. 21 on draft night, just weeks after leading his Ohio State Buckeyes to the Final Four.
Usually for younger players selected to All-Star activities – like Friday’s “Rising Stars Challenge” – the weekend provides a chance to chill and show off their skills. But to Sullinger, this weekend means more, much more.
‘To me, it means everything,’ Sullinger said. ‘All the hard work. And also on top of that, being picked where I was picked, it was kind of a slap in the face towards me even though I had the back injury. But it’s a blessing.’
The slap in the face has apparently lit a fire under the big man. Only sickness (which required IVs earlier) Wednesday night could bring an end to his career-best string of six straight games with a double-double. He was named the Eastern Conference player of the week last week as he averaged 20 points and 11 rebounds. Sully had just four points and seven rebounds in 19 minutes in the 104-92 loss to the Spurs.
“I was a little sick. Still feel it a little bit, but I’m all right,” said Sullinger. “I missed a lot of shots, but I don’t really think [the illness] affected me. I think it was just that I was a little bit off in my routine, came in a little bit later because (team trainer) Eddie [Lacerte] wanted me to stay in bed. Just off my routine a little bit. As a result, I missed a lot of shots that I normally make.”
Just how long does Sullinger plan on using the motivation?
‘A long time? For the rest of my career,’ Sullinger answered.
Sullinger isn’t the first Celtics star to use a chip on his shoulder as motivation. Rajon Rondo does it every time people bring up his career at Kentucky with Tubby Smith. Paul Pierce, like Sullinger was projected by some as a “Top-5” pick. He fell to 10th in the 1998 NBA Draft.
Now Sullinger, like Pierce and Rondo, are busy proving NBA executives wrong for passing on him. Sullinger is averaging 13.2 points and 8.2 rebounds in his second season in the NBA, earning a spot on the “Rising Stars” squad this weekend.
‘I don’t want to get satisfied,’ Sullinger said. ‘I never will get satisfied. I’ve got a lot more work to do.’
|Chris Mannix on D&C: Rajon Rondo will ‘be with this team through the offseason’||02.12.14 at 11:21 am ET|
Sports Illustrated NBA writer Chris Mannix talked with Dennis & Callahan on Wednesday about Rajon Rondo, trade rumors, the NBA draft and more. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.
Mannix predicts that Rondo will remain with the Celtics this year, and Danny Ainge will look to keep him on board for the long term if he shows an ability to work with the team’s new coach.
“I think he’s a guy that Danny wants to build around if he gets along with Brad Stevens. … It’s still very much a wait-and-see situation with Rondo,” Mannix said. “You’ve got to see what you get from him next year. He’s not going to get traded before this year’s trade deadline, he’s going to be with this team through the offseason.”
Mannix didn’t guarantee Rondo would be in Boston after the season, saying Ainge would always listen to offers.
“If Danny gets a monster offer for Rondo, I don’t think he’s attached to him in the sense that he’s untradeable,” Mannix said. “But I think it’s going to take a huge, All-Star level Kevin Garnett or Ray Allen type of offer.”
Jeff Green, who has been part of recent trade rumors, might be writing his ticket out of town due to his inconsistency, following a strong start to the season.
“He was off the table in the Omer Asik trade about a month ago,” Mannix said. “I remember talking to people in the organization and there was no way they were going to trade Jeff Green in an Omer Asik deal. They thought Green was too valuable in the short term and the long term. Now, a month and a half later, and we’re now realizing that Jeff Green is kind of this Jekyll and Hyde type of guy where some nights he can go for 30, other nights 2-for-12 from the floor and totally vanish.”
|Fast Break: Jeff Green, Jared Sullinger help Celtics stop Bucks||02.10.14 at 10:23 pm ET|
Behind 11 points from Green, the Celtics outscored Milwaukee 32-18 in the fourth quarter to improve to 19-34 on the season. While the Bucks remained atop the tank rankings at 9-42, the C’s now own the league’s eighth-worst record — four games out of a playoff spot.
While Sullinger (13 points, 10 rebounds) logged his sixth straight double-double, Olynyk (14, 11) had the first of his NBA career.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Bass kicking: If not for Bass, the Celtics would have been in serious trouble early against the Bucks. While the rest of his teammates shot a combined 6-of-17 from the floor (35 percent) in the opening 12 minutes, Bass finished 5-of-8 for 12 points to go along with four rebounds, and the Celtics led 26-24 after one.
Crash course: Perhaps motivated by the few Milwaukee fans in attendance who constantly chanted his first name, Gerald Wallace filled the stat sheet in the opening half. Starting in place of the injured Avery Bradley, he compiled eight points on three shots, three boards, three steals and two assists by halftime, helping the C’s take a 49-46 lead into the locker room. His production halted after the break, but …
Green thumbs up: After scoring just two points on four shots in the first quarter, Green progressively improved throughout the night, saving his best for the last quarter. He scored eight points on five shots in both the second and third quarters, and then erupted for another 11 on eight attempts in the fourth to close out the win.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Tank top: The Bucks sat Larry Sanders (eye), Ersan Ilyasova (back), O.J. Mayo (illness) and Caron Butler (ankle), and the Celtics countered with Rajon Rondo (knee), Bradley (ankle) and Vitor Faverani (knee) on the bench. If a February game against the NBA’s worst team in Milwaukee could get any uglier, it just did.
Oh, shoot: Midway through the third quarter, the Bucks were shooting exactly 50 percent from the floor (22-44 FG), taking a 61-59 lead after consecutive buckets by Khris Middleton (a 3) and Zaza Pachulia (a bunny). Milwaukee entered the game shooting a league-worst 42.1 percent from the field.
Zaza’s elbows: Pretty much everybody felt the wrath of Zaza Pachulia‘s errant elbows, but Bass got the worst of it, reportedly suffering a corneal abrasion to his left eye that kept him out of the fourth quarter.
Phantom Phil? This late Phil Pressey foul call had Jackie Mac doing her best Tommy impression, but alas it appears Rondo’s replacement may have tripped up Gary Neal well before the whistle.
The NBA named Jared Sullinger the Eastern Conference Player of the Week.
Sullinger averaged 23.7 points (60.0 FG%), 12.7 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 2.0 blocks in three victories against the Magic, 76ers and Kings last week, recording three of his five straight double-doubles. Jordan Crawford (Dec. 2-8) is the only other Celtics player to earn the honor this season.
Here are Sullinger’s performances last week:
- Celtics 96, Magic 89: 21 PTS (10-15 FG), 12 REB
- Celtics 114, 76ers 108: 19 PTS (6-11 FG), 10 REB, 5 AST, 4 BLK
- Celtics 99, Kings 89: 31 PTS (14-24 FG), 16 REB
Sullinger has cemented himself as either a building block for the Celtics future or one heck of a trade chip (a la Al Jefferson in 2007). Not bad for an undersized big who fell to No. 21 and missed much of his rookie season due to back surgery.
Thunder superstar Kevin Durant took home the Western Conference Player of the Week honor.
|How good can Jared Sullinger be? ‘He’s not there, he can get better’||02.08.14 at 3:29 pm ET|
There’s not a big man hotter than Jared Sullinger, at least three games into February.
He is averaging 23.7 points and 12.7 rebounds in registering a double-double in his first three games of the month. Not coincidentally, the Celtics have followed up their worst month in history with a 3-0 start to February.
Friday night, he had a career high 31 points and 16 rebounds in posting his fourth straight double-double overall in a 99-89 win over the Kings. Perhaps just as impressive is the fact that he accomplished those numbers against another power big in DeMarcus Cousins.
“I think we’re doing a better job looking for him,” Brad Stevens said. “He feels a little bit better even though that dislocated finger’s still wrapped up. I think he feels better every day, and you know, it’s like we talked about last week: fair or unfair, that’s who we need him to be. And so that’s the opportunity in front of him. He’s capable and I’m not saying that you have to get a double-double every day but he’s darn near capable of doing that. And so I think that the more that we can continue to build off that, the better.
“[Sullinger] is a 6-foot-7 [big man]. That’s the one thing. And that’s what makes Jared unique is he’s a big, strong guy that can score over bigger guys in the post. But then, that’s why it’s so critical, and we’ve talked about it, that he continues to work and refine his perimeter game, which he’s obviously doing well with. But it’s not where it will be someday.”
What is Sullinger’s ceiling?
“How high does he reach?” Stevens deadpanned. “He’s not there. That’s the good news. He’s not there; he can get better. And I think, obviously, 31 and 16 is great; can you do that every night? No one in the league is doing that every night. But the bottom line is, as he continues to improve, as he continues to get more games underneath his belt, as he continues to get further away from the surgery and gets another more freshness and another summer of work and all of those things, I just think that the sky’s the limit. He’s playing at a nice level, there’s no question about it, but I really believe that he can be a consistent double-double guy.’
Sullinger is averaging 13.4 points and a team leading 8.1 rebounds in a season where he easily could be considered the team MVP. His scoring is up nearly four points from his rookie season and his rebounds are up one per game over last season.
“It is just more space, in college I was double all the time so I had to find ways to score,” Sullinger said. “That’s why my offensive rebounding has been the way it has been, I had to find other ways to score in college.”
Something else that’s been better in the last three games is Sullinger’s demeanor on the court.
“I just went out and played my game I have been doing it for the last couple of games and just have been letting go. I am showing better body language according to my father,” Sullinger said with a sheepish grin.
While the winning may be hurting the team’s draft position, Stevens is just happy that there are clear signs that the right pieces are in place.
“I think the nice part about it is at the end of the day, you had Phil Pressey out on the floor at 22 or 23 years old, you had Kelly Olynyk on the floor, you had Jared Sullinger on the floor, you had a lot of young guys on the floor but it was also we had a lot of real savvy basketball players out there,” Stevens said. “And I think this team is really figuring out what they do best individually and playing off of that. I thought the guy who really lifted us in a lot of ways was Gerald (Wallace). I thought his physicality and toughness all over the court was great.”
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