Jared Sullinger still has a ways to go before he is in ideal playing shape. Nobody just bounces back from back surgery and immediately is ready to run a marathon, and Sullinger was never a toothpick to begin with.
If Sullinger keeps coming along like this, though, he should be just fine by the time the ball goes up on opening night. The second-year forward was one of the few bright spots in the Celtics’ 97-85 loss to the Sixers in Newark, Del., on Friday as the Celtics fell to 0-3 on the preseason. His 19 points led all Celtics and he came within a rebound of matching Brandon Bass‘ team-high 10 boards.
Sullinger showed up for camp noticeably heavier than he was last season and admitted time would tell whether he would be in game shape by Oct. 30. While it is unlikely he will be in Gerald Wallace-caliber shape by that time, Sullinger should be more than serviceable provided he keeps at it with his conditioning.
When Jordan Crawford arrived last season, then-Celtics coach Doc Rivers raised some eyebrows when he called the recently acquired guard one of the best passers on the team. Crawford’s passing abilities were not well known in Washington — because he rarely passed. In Boston, he seemed only slightly less prone to not take off-balance 26-footers than he was with the Wizards.
A few months later, Crawford actually is showing signs of being the more solid player Rivers bragged about. Crawford started alongside Avery Bradley in the Boston backcourt on Friday and assumed some of the ballhandling duties from Bradley, who continued to struggle in the role. Crawford had a couple of nice drive-and-dish plays and worked to get the Celtics into their offense rather than just bringing the ball up and firing a contested jump shot.
All in all, he had a better night than Bradley, who had four points on 2-for-5 shooting, two assists, two turnovers and four fouls. Crawford finished with 12 points, three assists and only one turnover.
Dirty Wroten scoundrel
Bradley’s defensive abilities are lauded and Crawford played aggressive man defense from the opening tip, but the Celtics as a whole did a poor job of keeping the Sixers out of the paint. Tony Wroten in particular gained dribble penetration at will, and Bradley’s characteristic aggression actually hurt him a few times. By over-committing, Bradley made it easier for Wroten to get by him or draw a foul.
Wroten tied rookie point guard Michael Carter-Williams with a team-high six assists each, proving Wroten was not the only Sixers guard who gave the Celtics trouble. Points will be harder to come by for the Celtics this season, making it vitally important that they make it more difficult on the opposition at the other end.
Hustle and bustle
A lot of the technical things were lacking for the Celtics. Their shot selection was poor, and when they did generate good shots, they missed them. Their defense left something to be desired, both inside and out, and they were outrebounded by 11 boards.
“I’m not trying to get embarrassed,” Wallace said bluntly.
There was plenty of extra effort, though, particularly on defense. Phil Pressey and Courtney Lee both got floor burns, and Lee and Wallace both ended up in the stands after hustling to chase down a fastbreak layup attempt. Keith Bogans had to leave the game with a thumb injury after he got his hand caught in a Sixer’s jersey while trying to take a charge.
The Celtics may not always do the right thing defensively, but whatever they’re doing, they’re doing it hard.
A Doc-ism returns
Wallace never played for Rivers, but he quoted a favorite Rivers line almost word-for-word after the Sixers stepped on the Celtics.
“We started this game out like we were cool and we were supposed to win this game and we didn’t play well,” Wallace said. “They came out and hit us in the mouth.”
The Sixers are widely assumed to be the worst team in the NBA this season. If so, what does that make the Celtics? Rivers uttered a similar line two seasons ago when he called his team “the Cool Celtics” after a loss to the Bulls. Truth be told, Wallace is pretty cool. But Wallace and Rivers probably would agree that losing is not.