BOSTON — Jared Sullinger didn’t look or sound so hot, so it was sort of funny that he seemed so surprised when a reporter asked about him feeling sick on Friday night.
“That got out?” a clearly congested Sullinger asked in a voice that sounded like someone had stuck an oboe down his throat.
Yes, the news of Sullinger’s illness did get out, not that it wouldn’t have taken the crack reporters in the Celtics locker room 12 seconds to figure it out as soon as he spoke. The second-year forward’s eyes were red as he spoke about his team’s 97-92 loss to the Pacers and how the defeat made it difficult for him to take much solace in helping to hold Pacers center Roy Hibbert to six points on 3-for-11 shooting.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens was actually the person who let the cat out of the bag, making an offhand comment while complimenting Sullinger’s defense on Hibbert.
“He’s pretty good in one-on-one D, there’s no question about it,” Stevens said. “I thought he did a good job. Roy Hibbert’s a load down there and I thought Jared gave us 31 pretty good minutes, and he was actually sick earlier [Friday]. He didn’t go through our walkthrough at all, so he did a pretty good job, considering.”
Sullinger said he had a fever and got an IV, then just chugged liquids the rest of the day. He left the bench briefly in the first half, heading to the locker room with a towel over his head, but he returned and played 14 more minutes in the second half before calling it a night.
There was never any consideration he would not play, he said, and he also plans to play Saturday in Atlanta.
“I was going to play [Friday] regardless,” Sullinger said. “I was going to play, but it took a lot out of me. Back-to-back, get some rest, get some fluids, try to get back at it [Saturday].”
Paul George led Indiana in scoring, David West keyed the third-quarter comeback and Luis Scola delivered 17 crucial points off the bench, but Lance Stephenson quietly put together another strong performance in what is becoming a breakout season. The fourth-year guard notched his second triple-double in five games by recording 10 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists while playing a game-high 41 minutes.
“I just try to be very aggressive,” Stephenson said. “I think it’s more my teammates hitting open shots. I just try to create for them and getting them in a position where they can hit that open shot that they like to shoot.”
As with anything involving Stephenson, one of the NBA’s more colorful characters, not even the triple-double happened without some drama. Stephenson was one assist shy of the mark when he tossed a long outlet pass to George for a dunk ahead of the defense, but it took several minutes for the official scorekeeper to credit Stephenson with the assist.
Before long, a representative from the Pacers jogged over to the scorer’s table to set things right, allowing Stephenson to officially get his second career triple-double. That was about the most dramatic moment in a fourth quarter that basically existed for the Pacers to run away and hide from the Celtics.
Plenty was said about the Celtics’ turnovers, particularly in the third quarter, but the impact of those 21 miscues cannot be overstated. Gerald Wallace called them the reason the Celtics lost the game. Sullinger said the Celtics need “to value the ball like gold.” George credited his team with re-evaluating its defense at halftime.
Whatever the reason, the turnovers were the overarching reason why the Celtics hopped on a plane for Atlanta on Friday night as losers of six straight, rather than one win in a row. Stevens wasn’t really interested in talking about other things like shot selection or ball movement when just a handful of fewer fumbles might have turned the Celtics’ fate.
“We passed them the ball too much, so that probably had something to do with our shot selection,” Stevens said. “It wasn’t good.”