Jared Sullinger Must Step Up for Boston Celtics

Mar 5, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Boston Celtics center Jared Sullinger (7) works against Cleveland Cavaliers center Tristan Thompson (13) during the first quarter at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 5, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Boston Celtics center Jared Sullinger (7) works against Cleveland Cavaliers center Tristan Thompson (13) during the first quarter at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports /

The Celtics are going to need Jared Sullinger to win against the Hawks

The Boston Celtics will look to guys like Marcus Smart, Evan Turner and even Terry Rozier to step up and fill the void created by the injury to Avery Bradley. It’s going to take a collective effort to replace Bradley’s perimeter defense and 15.2 points per game, a mark that was second-highest on the team, and a career-high for Bradley. While the attention will naturally shift to other members of the backcourt, a certain member of Boston’s frontcourt can help alleviate some of that pressure.

Jared Sullinger has had himself a solid season. He missed just one game all season, posted a career-high in rebounds per game and was overall Boston’s best rebounder. The Celtics are going to need that Sullinger moving forward in this series. Sullinger struggled in Game 1 on Saturday evening, posting just nine points and six rebounds before fouling out after just 19 minutes of action. He really struggled with his shot, shooting 4-of-14.

Sullinger’s performance in Game 1 was in line with how he fared against the Atlanta Hawks in the regular season. In the four regular season meetings, he recorded just over seven points and six rebounds per game – both of which were below his averages for the entire season. On the defensive end, the match-ups against Al Horford or Paul Millsap don’t really work in his favor. Horford is a bit taller, and Millsap a bit quicker. That is part of the reason Sullinger only averaged around 20 minutes per game against Atlanta.

However, in Boston’s lone win over Atlanta this year, Sullinger played a key part in that. He scored 10 points and collected 10 of Boston’s 50 rebounds that night, which went a long way in helping Boston control the glass. The Celtics were particularly active on the offensive glass that night, hauling in 17 offensive rebounds, leading to 24 second-chance points. That’s where Sullinger is very underrated. He finished in the top 20 in offensive rebounds this year. Extra possessions are always welcome, especially for a Celtics team that has struggled with their offense recently.

Winning the rebounding battle is going to be key for Boston. Surprisingly, Atlanta is one of the worst rebounding teams in the NBA – 28th in rebounding differential – but they’ve had success against Boston. Horford and Millsap combined for over 18 rebounds per game against Boston in Atlanta’s three regular season wins this year, but recorded 14 in the only loss. While Boston did a pretty good job containing Millsap in game one, the same can’t be said for Horford who went for 24 points and 12 rebounds.

The Celtics must rebound better collectively, but it starts with Sullinger, the team’s top rebounder. The Hawks had 15 second chance points in Game 1, with six of those coming in the fourth quarter. While that may not seem like a lot, in a one-point loss, those extra possessions are crucial.

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Not only will Boston need Sullinger to rebound effectively, they’re going to need him to make some shots too. Without Bradley, Boston’s defense is sure to take a hit, but Bradley’s ability to knock down jumpers will also be missed. Boston’s shooting woes were on full display in the first half of game one on Saturday night. The Hawks clogged the middle, protected the basket and let the Celtics shoot from the outside all night. While Atlanta certainly executed that gameplan, Boston aided them by consistently missing wide open looks.

That’s where Sullinger can provide a boost. He knocked down a couple of jumpers early in the first quarter, but struggled the rest of the night. Atlanta was content to leave him open. Sullinger had six shot attempts in the first quarter. Those open looks for Sullinger are going to continue to be there. If he’s able to knock them down early and often, it will force Horford or Millsap to step out a little further, away from the basket and open things up just enough for Isaiah Thomas to get into the paint and make plays. It will also do wonders for Boston’s confidence to see some shots go through the basket in the first half.

Next: Can the Celtics Win Without Bradley?

Boston needs a better performance from several players moving forward in this series, Sullinger is just one of them. The team doesn’t need him to go for 20 points and 10 rebounds, but they need more from him than they got in game one. A performance similar to the what he had in Boston’s lone victory over Atlanta this year would be a great start.