Boston Celtics: 2014Game13
Sullinger, a second-year forward matched up on Tim Duncan, registered team highs with 19 points and 17 rebounds over 31 minutes, 24 seconds of floor time in Wednesday's 104-93 loss to the San Antonio Spurs. Rookie Olynyk, still learning to play at the center position, chipped in eight points, eight rebounds and three assists over 37:29.
As Stevens told reporters in San Antonio after the game, "The team that played tonight could be a real fun group to build with. That's what you take from here."
Stevens had to like the effort and competitiveness from his entire team, one night after getting absolutely trampled by the Houston Rockets. And it's hard to ignore the positives that occur with Sullinger and Olynyk on the floor together.
In 121 minutes of floor time, the Sullinger/Olynyk combo is plus-6 (not bad considering Boston has been outscored by 74 points overall this season). The advanced stats on the pairing are not particularly glossy, including a defensive rating of 104.1 (but that's only 1.5 points higher than Boston's season average). Boston's offensive rating with the pair (100.3) is a respectable 4.3 points better than the season average, and Boston rebounds at a rate that would put it among the league leaders in defensive and total rebounding percentages with that combo on the court. Maybe the most encouraging sign is that Boston's pace -- middle of the pack for the season (96.86 possessions per 48 minutes) -- leaps to 102.33 with Olynyk and Sullinger together. That would be tops in the league if maintained.
Sullinger has been nothing short of spectacular. The second-year forward has emerged as Boston's most consistent player despite enduring some ups and downs of his own while working his way back from offseason back surgery and still finding his wind. Olynyk has encountered typical rookie hurdles -- his shots aren't falling consistently, he's getting whistled for questionable fouls and his defense needs improving -- but the potential is obvious.
And while it's unclear how long Stevens will ride the Sullinger/Olynyk combo, these longer stretches together as starters will only help them develop individually and as a group. During Wednesday's game, the Sullinger/Olynyk two-man lineup was plus-8 in 26 minutes of floor time together. Boston's offensive rating (107) was off the charts when they were together (and a defensive rating of 95.8 wasn't too shabby, either).
Now imagine when Sullinger has his wind back completely (lumbar disc surgery in February left him immobile for months) or Olynyk's shots start falling (he's shooting only 39 percent from the floor and 18.2 percent beyond the 3-point arc). The rookie is too good for those struggles to stick around, and being thrust into a larger role should help bring him along defensively.
It's an enticing future with the Sullinger/Olynyk combo and we got a sneak peek on Wednesday.
Rapid reaction after the San Antonio Spurs defeated the Boston Celtics 104-93 on Wednesday night at the AT&T Center:
THE NITTY GRITTY
Boston bounced back with a little extra spunk after Tuesday's dismantling in Houston and hung with one of the league's elite for 2 ½ quarters. Moral victory achieved. The Spurs dominated much of the second half, but coach Brad Stevens can find a silver lining in his team's competitiveness. Jared Sullinger, making his first start of the season as Boston tweaked its first-unit frontcourt, had a double-double by halftime and finished with a team-high 19 points and 17 rebounds over 31:24. Avery Bradley continued to fire away and matched that output with 19 points on 9-of-18 shooting. Both Jeff Green (19 points) and Jordan Crawford (12) also finished in double figures, but Boston's bench combined for a mere 16 points. Tony Parker paced San Antonio with a team-high 19 points, while Tiago Splitter added 11 points and 10 rebounds.
The Spurs owned a one-possession lead midway through the third quarter, but an 8-0 burst that culminated with a Parker layup put the Spurs out front by double digits (71-60). Boston never got closer than seven the rest of the way, though a late surge trimmed the deficit to single digits in the final minutes after San Antonio pushed its lead as high as 19 in the fourth quarter.
The Celtics generated only four points off 12 San Antonio turnovers, while the Spurs shaped 17 Boston turnovers into 25 points. ... Boston actually won the battle on the glass (44-41). ... The Celtics led by seven in the first half. ... Vitor Faverani played only 2:05 in a bench role, while Kris Humphries got a five-minute burst in the second half. ... Keith Bogans did not dress due to illness. ... MarShon Brooks was the only player active who did not play.
WHAT IT MEANS
The Celtics (4-9) have now lost five in a row and limp a bit back to Boston after a tough three-game road trip. There's no time to lick their wounds. A visit from the East-leading Indiana Pacers looms on Friday to open a back-to-back that closes the next night in Atlanta.
Coming off their worst loss of the season and riding a four-game losing streak, coach Brad Stevens is trying to figure out how to give his team a spark. The Celtics like the Sullinger-Olynyk combination and have worked to keep the young tandem paired together whenever possible since the preseason.
Sullinger and Olynyk join Jeff Green, Avery Bradley, and Jordan Crawford.
A look at Boston's other five-man combinations and their records this season:
0-4: Bradley, Gerald Wallace, Green, Bass, Faverani
2-2: Bradley, Crawford, Green, Bass, Faverani
2-2: Bradley, Crawford, Green, Bass, Olynyk
- POINT(S) OF EMPHASIS: For a Celtics team that ranks near the bottom of the league in most advanced offensive metrics, including rating (96.1, 26th) and points per possession (0.871, 26th), the Spurs are not a welcome sight. San Antonio's defense is second in rating (91.6) and third in points allowed per possession (0.839). Offense is unlikely to come easy for a team that has struggled to generate consistently generate points this season.
- ONE CHANCE, ONE OPPORTUNITY: The Spurs are the best defensive rebounding team in the league (78.7 defensive rebound percentage). Let's put it this way: Opponents are generating only 4.1 percent of their total offensive chances against the Spurs off of offensive rebounds, according to Synergy Sports data. The Celtics, who rank dead last in defensive rebound percentage (71.1 percent) have seen opponents finish 6.1 percent of their total plays on offensive rebounds. Bottom line: The Celtics have to maximize each possession because the Spurs are tough to score on the first time and don't give you many second chances.
- OVERCOMING THE BUMPS: Earlier in the season, the Celtics seemed to be rallying from a double-digit deficit in every game. Now, the fact that they've fallen behind by that much that often is troubling, but Boston never relented and always found a way to get back into games. In Minnesota and Houston, once the opponent built a decent lead, it felt like the game was over. Boston can't get frustrated when it struggles or else it spills over to both ends of the floor and games can get away against good teams.
- WHAT ELSE?: Will Jeff Green make an impact at any point in this three-game road trip? He hasn't through two games. His line in that span: 2-of-13 shooting, six points, nine rebounds, four turnovers, minus-37 in plus/minus. ... Avery Bradley missed 17 of 22 shots he put up Tuesday, but here's hoping it doesn't discourage him. SOMEONE (anyone!) on this offense has to be aggressive and it's nice to see Bradley unafraid to be that guy. ... Likewise, encouraging to see Courtney Lee not afraid to fire away on Tuesday night (16 shot attempts). He remains one of the 15 most efficient offensive players in the league through 12 games and shouldn't be bashful when his offense is clicking.
(Read full game preview)
Play Podcast The Boston Globe's Bob Ryan discusses the rivalry between Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, the performances of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady and Boston's best team in history.
Play Podcast The ESPN Boston High School football crew discusses Week 8 of the Massachusetts HS football season.