The Boston Celtics went into Brooklyn and defeated the Nets on Christmas morning, 93-76. Boston's 34 second-quarter points, highlighted by a 17-2 run, gave them a lead they would never surrender. More impressive, however, was the excellent play of reserve forward Jared Sullinger.
While Boston's Jeff Green - my preseason vote for Comeback Player of the Year - finished with an efficient 15 points, and Jason Terry added 11 more on 3-4 from 3-point range, it was Sullinger who impressed me the most and had arguably the greatest impact on the game. The 6'9" rookie looked like a Kevin Garnett protege, hitting a variety of shots and grabbing rebounds on the defensive end.
Sully finished with 16 points on a very efficient 6-7 shooting, making four of his six foul shots and adding seven rebounds. He was also a team-high +21, so basically he had the best game so far of his early NBA career. For Boston, where getting better every day is a likely philosophy, Sully's performance represents promise amid a 14-13 record. His ability to knock down 18-footers, free throws, jumpers from the line and throw it down at the rim is clearly a result of Garnett's tutoring, as you can see Sully perform the same moves that have helped make Garnett a future Hall of Famer.
This morning against Brooklyn, Sully's performance was even more significant, as it helped the Celtics outrebound a taller Nets team that boasts the likes of Reggie Evans, Brook Lopez and Andray Blatche, big-framed guys who'll bump underneath. Granted, the C's caught a break with Nets forward Kris Humphries (7.4 RPG) missing the game, but they made his participation missed and got the job done. Brooklyn has the ability to win games in the paint, which made Sully's play in countering the Nets bigs on both ends of the floor that much more impressive as well as important to the outcome of the game.
While Boston has had trouble rebounding the ball in recent years, finishing in the middle of the pack in the NBA in defensive rebounds per game while finishing in the bottom five in total RPG every year since 2009-10, they have the right player to improve their board play. If Sully turns out to be a dependable big that can effectively rebound and make shots from around the court, the Celtics would greatly benefit from being able to rest Garnett for extended periods in confidence that Sully can fill the void in the middle. A rested Garnett, in turn, can result in a deep playoff run for the Celtics.
Look for Sullinger to continue to improve his performance throughout the season as he learns from Garnett and Boston head coach Doc Rivers.