Pushed aside, demoted, doubted, dismissed. Maybe that's just what Jared Sullinger needed to motivate him. It seems ridiculous to think about his performance last night as a "comeback" when we are talking about the first game of the year. But that's just how it felt like to me.
Brad Stevens made no secret of the fact that he preferred a 4 man big rotation and Jared was the odd man out. But he also made sure we knew that on any given game he would switch things up if the situation called for it. And perhaps that is the bigger takeaway. Only time will tell if Sullinger's good game was a trend or an anomaly. But Stevens' gameplan of having an amorphic rotation seems to be the real deal.
Tyler Zeller was struggling to contain rookie phenom Jahlil Okafor who scored 8 quick points. Zeller is a quality team defender who puts himself in the right position more often than not - which should serve us well in the "modern NBA." But Okafor is a throwback post player with Al Jefferson like moves and soft touch around the basket and Tyler was simply overwhelmed.
Brad Stevens decided that what he needed was a little bit of beef, so in goes Sullinger.
Sullinger helped quiet Okafor, who scored only four points over the next 31 1/2 minutes of game action, and helped the Celtics rally from an early nine-point deficit en route to a 112-95 triumph over the 76ers in the season opener at TD Garden.
"I thought he was good one-on-one guarding him," Stevens said of Sullinger's defense on Okafor last week. "Sometimes guys do a great job and the guy just gets to cooking and you gotta change something up. And that's what happened. So he went in pretty early and thought he did a good job."
Of course Sullinger didn't just play the role of defensive stopper. He also contributed 12 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, a block and a steal. I can grumble that he missed two 3-pointers but if Stevens is going to keep giving him the green light for those then I'll have to acquiesce. Besides, Sully hit all the rest of his shots and we won comfortably so I guess I can forgive him.
How long will this success last? Was the demise of Jared Sullinger greatly exaggerated? Or was Sullinger just keeping Kelly Olynyk's seat warm while he served a one game suspension for the Kevin Love incident? Will this be the peak of Sully's year?
Likely the answer is none of the above - or at least nothing so extreme. My guess is that Sullinger will be a necessary and useful piece of the the puzzle and Coach Stevens will utilize him effectively when the situation calls for him. Regardless, it is nice to know that the big man still has it in him to contribute.