Boston Celtics: 2013PreseasonGame2

Rookie Sullinger starts strong

October, 7, 2012
Before the start of training camp, Celtics coach Doc Rivers was recounting all the moves his team made this summer to restock their roster when he got to first-round draft pick Jared Sullinger.

"The middle of last college season, I don’t even think we would have looked at film on Sullinger because we would have thought we had no chance to get him," Rivers said. "Then [Celtics president of basketball operations] Danny [Ainge] released the health report on him, and he fell to us. So that was terrific."

[+] EnlargeJared Sullinger
AP Photo/Luca BrunoJared Sullinger didn't seem to be intimidated playing in the Celtics' star-studded starting lineup.
Rivers chuckled before adding, "That’s not true, everyone, I’m just joking. Or maybe it is, who knows? It’s been that type of summer, it’s been good."

Once a player with lottery potential, Sullinger slipped all the way to Boston at No. 21 because of concerns about bulging discs in his back that left him red-flagged before June's draft. A solid two-week showing at summer league suggested Boston had a steal on its hands and two preseason games overseas have only solidified that notion.

Coming off a 16-point, 8-rebound effort in Friday's loss in Turkey, Sullinger was elevated to the starting lineup Sunday and chipped in nine points and seven rebounds over 18 minutes during Boston's 105-75 triumph over Emporio Armani in Milan.

Sullinger has looked nothing like a fresh-faced late-round pick during this European trip, blending well with any lineup. Some first-year players would be overwhelmed playing alongside Boston's Big Three and a veteran such as Jason Terry as part of Sunday's starting unit, but Sullinger simply did the little things -- finishing around the basket and cleaning up the glass -- and he's well on his way to establishing himself as a rotation player in his first NBA season.

There's room for growth in his game and it's clear the Celtics like the idea of pairing him with the likes of Kevin Garnett as he improves his defense. It does make you wonder if, down the road, Sullinger could make a strong case for more time with the starting unit.

Rivers cautioned against reading too much into Sunday's lineup change. Brandon Bass, the incumbent starting power forward, knocked down all five shots he took and quietly put up 11 points and eight rebounds over 24:36 off the bench.

Of course, that may only fuel the notion that Bass could have a bigger impact off the pine. Remember that Boston brought Bass here last offseason as a reserve contributor. He spent much of the first half of the season in a sixth-man role before ascending to the starting lineup and aiding Boston's second-half turnaround after Garnett shuffled to center.

The bottom line for Celtics fans: These are phenomenal problems to have. Or maybe options is the better word, as Sullinger's ability to immediately play at this level -- while providing a key element in offensive rebounding, something Boston has sorely lacked -- will only give the Celtics more versatility and depth with which to operate.

We still haven't seen Sullinger against honest-to-goodness NBA talent, but Boston has to be encouraged by what it's seen so far. On a European vacation with plenty of positives, Sullinger's ability to make an immediate impact is at the top of the list.

Rapid reaction: Celtics 105, Armani 75

October, 7, 2012
Brian Babineau/NBAE/Getty ImagesCeltics guard Rajon Rondo started strong for the Celtics.
Rapid reaction after the Boston Celtics defeated Emporio Armani 105-75 during exhibition play Sunday in Milan:

Rajon Rondo's first-quarter explosion (17 points on 7-of-7 shooting, including a 3-pointer and two circus layups), coupled with strong second-quarter team defense helped Boston build a 13-point halftime cushion and sail to the finish line of its European adventure. Rondo didn't score again the rest of the night, but finished tied for the team high in points with Jeff Green (17 points, 3 rebounds over 24:35). Paul Pierce kicked in 14 points over 17 minutes, while Jason Terry, Courtney Lee, and Brandon Bass each chipped in 11 points apiece.

The Celtics shot 72.2 percent in the first quarter -- highlighted by Rondo's efforts -- but only had a three-point lead due to a bit of defensive indifference (at least when it came to allowing corner 3-pointers). Armani connected on a mere 4-of-24 shots (16.7 percent) in the second quarter as Boston outscored its opponent by double digits and raced away.

Rondo only had two assists as part of his first-quarter outburst, but one was a pretty dish between a pair of defenders to a cutting Lee for an emphatic one-handed slam. After a subpar debut on Friday, Lee seemed to get going with the jam and had a couple nice finishes around the basket as part of a solid night off the bench.

Celtics coach Doc Rivers put Jared Sullinger and Terry in the starting lineup alongside Rondo, Pierce, and Kevin Garnett. Sullinger responded with another strong performance, chipping in nine points and seven rebounds (three on the offensive glass) over 18:02. The rookie first-round pick blended nicely with the first unit and his ability to clean the glass worked well with that group (he also has a nice feel around the basket and can finish in traffic -- or get to the line).

Darko Milicic was outstanding while chipping in two points, nine rebounds, four blocks, and three assists. We know he can use his size on the defensive end, where he's been swatting everything that comes his way during this overseas trip. But offensively he's shown an ability to create for teammates in the high post off screens and pick-and-rolls.

First-year guard Jamar Smith got 12 more minutes of floor time as Rivers is giving him an opportunity to distinguish himself as a backup ball-handler. He's better known for his shooting, but hasn't gotten much to fall this trip, connecting on just 1-of-6 shots on Sunday (the only bucket a transition layup that he nearly tried to give to Lee).

Jason Collins got his first action of the preseason (three rebounds, four fouls over 11:37)... Rivers picked up his first technical of the new seasons, barking at one of the two NBA officials after an offensive foul call on Milic... The Celtics did a much better job taking care of the basketball, committing a mere 14 turnovers (this after giving it away 25 times in Turkey)... Training camp invites Rob Kurz and Micah Downs -- alongside rookies Dionte Christmas, Kris Joseph, and Fab Melo -- got floor time in the fourth quarter and Garnett was on his feet barking out encouragement from the bench... Chris Wilcox sat out again as he battles a back issue that's kept him out since the first practice of the season.

The Celtics finish their weeklong, two-game European vacation in encouraging fashion. Boston tightened up a lot of what it did poorly in Turkey and absolutely dominated Armani in the middle quarters. More importantly: Boston emerges healthy from the trip and returns stateside ready to build off what it accomplished both on and off the court. The team is scheduled to travel home Monday and will get some practice time before its next game Saturday night against the Knicks in Hartford, Conn.



Jeff Green
18.7 1.6 0.9 33.7
ReboundsJ. Sullinger 7.9
AssistsJ. Nelson 7.0
StealsJ. Nelson 2.5
BlocksK. Olynyk 0.8