Final, Celtics 99-89: Jared Sullinger scored 31 points and nabbed 16 rebounds as the Boston Celtics recorded their first three-game win streak since mid-December.
Sullinger outdueled DeMarcus Cousins, who also had 31 and 16, as the Celtics (18-33) used a fourth-quarter surge to put away the Sacramento Kings (17-33). Despite big games by Cousins and Isaiah Thomas, who finished with 24 points and six assists, the Kings were unable to get much from the duo’s teammates.
Jerryd Bayless scored 19 points off the bench and Gerald Wallace stalked a triple-double with eight points, 12 rebounds and nine assists. The Celtics led by as many as 18 points in the fourth.
Fourth quarter, 2:06, Celtics 99-85: When we said earlier that Cousins would win the battle if Sullinger just plain tried to outscore him, we didn’t realize Sullinger had this in the works.
Sully drains a straight-on three, followed by a step-back jumper with a little something extra for the Kings as he makes his way back on defense, to continue his domination of the Kings. Cousins has 28 points and 14 boards for his trouble, but he’s not engaged at both ends the way Sully is.
Provided he can avoid that dreaded back trouble, you might have quite the player in the making here, Celtics fans.
Fourth quarter, 7:04, Celtics 88-73: Jared Sullinger is crashing the offensive glass and finishing strong. Gerald Wallace is flying around, grabbing rebounds and attacking the hoop. Jerryd Bayless is absolutely on fire.
The Celtics are feeling pretty good.
Midway through the fourth, the Celtics have burst into their largest lead of the game, mostly by simply playing with more energy. Shots are falling, but they’re falling because the Celtics are beating the Kings to loose balls and to spots for good looks. Wallace’s tough rebound and looooong outlet to Sully for a finish that brought an and-one captured the Celtics’ run in one play.
Fourth quarter, 9:37, Celtics 79-73: Jerryd Bayless and Chris Johnson are feeling confident, and that’s never a good thing for the opponent. Neither is the greatest shooter in the world, but when either gets a rhythm, watch out.
Bayless and Johnson have each hit bit 3-pointers early in this fourth quarter to push the Celtics within a point of their largest lead of the game. Bayless is having a strong outing as a reserve, scoring 15 points to lead all bench players.
End of third quarter, Celtics 71-69: Somehow, the Kings have the two best players on the floor, yet are losing by two points.
Cousins and Thomas have been that good, and their teammates have been that bad. They’ve combined to shoot 17-for-36 from the field for 45 points, while the rest of the Kings have 24 points on 7-for-30 shooting.
Maybe that’s the key to Stevens’ gameplan. Even if Cousins and Thomas go off, he may be able to count on Sacramento as a whole being bad enough to keep it from mattering. Let’s see if that holds in the final 12 minutes.
Third quarter, 2:02, Celtics 69-65: There’s a lot of back-and-forth scoring, with the Celtics doing just enough basket-trading to maintain the lead. They could help themselves by getting some sort of stop defensively, but that hasn’t happened so far.
Cousins and Thomas have now each eclipsed 20 points as Sacramento’s duo helps their team keep pace with the Celtics. Green is having one of his typically mixed performances for Boston. He has 15 points, including a swooping layup down the lane, but he’s just 5-for-16 from the floor and has only three rebounds.
Third quarter, 8:33, Celtics 55-52: Basketball is a game of runs, but the Celtics and Kings are taking that to extremes. After giving up a 6-0 run to begin the third quarter, the Celtics are now on a 6-0 run of their own. A three-point play by Jeff Green and a physical finish inside by Jared Sullinger recaptures the lead for Boston.
Third quarter, 10:27, Kings 52-49: Now it’s the Celtics’ turn to not get the memo about the quarter starting. They surrendered three unanswered baskets, including a baby hook shot by Cousins over Sully’s outstretched arm, the vault into the lead. Brad Stevens has seen these types of lulls before, and he’s not letting it get out of hand with a quick timeout.
Halftime, Celtics 49-46: Out of nowhere, the Celtics started hitting shots and getting stops, sort of like a real, quality NBA team. It helps that the Kings are defensively challenged, but Cousins’ crew is actually fairly effective at the offensive end. Holding them to 23 percent shooting in a quarter, as the Celtics just did, is kind of impressive.
Kelly Olynyk scored nine of his 11 points in the second to bump Boston into the lead, but he’s not the only player doing some good things for the Celtics. Gerald Wallace has a team-leading seven boards to help the Celtics control the rebounding battle 29-21.
The Celtics have done a decent job of bottling up every Kings player except DeMarcus Cousins and Isaiah Thomas. Cousins has put up 18 points and counting, although his defensive indifference may be the biggest reason Olynyk and Jared Sullinger are having solid scoring nights. Thomas is an all-around little ball of badassery, tallying 14 points and three assists with a single turnover.
Second quarter, 2:55, Kings 44-42: Joel Anthony hasn’t gotten much of a chance to play since he was acquired last month, but he’s getting his chance tonight. With Kris Humphries chained to the bench until just now, Anthony has come in and done a decent job defending Boston’s back line.
Anthony has always been very good defending the pick and roll, which Thomas and Cousins were killing the Celtics with in the first quarter. He’s also gotten in the scoring column with an offensive rebound and short jumper when the Kings just didn’t cover him.
Second quarter, 5:58, Celtics 36-35: With such a young group, Phil Pressey is getting a chance to not just play, but also lead. He’s yet to score a point, but he’s set up Boston’s offense to run through Kelly Olynyk — no, really — and it’s been effective.
Olynyk has 11 points and six rebounds midway through the second quarter, operating from the perimeter, midrange and in the post. He’s still not entirely trusted to guard Cousins, but that’s the be expected. Baby steps for the rookie.
Second quarter, 8:31, Celtics 31-29: The second quarter has started, even if the Kings don’t seem to realize it. The Celtics have reeled off 10 straight points to begin the frame, vaulting into the lead on an 18-foot jump shot by Olynyk.
The Celtics are shooting just 37 percent from the field, the Kings just 42 percent, but neither team’s defense has been all that great. They’re just not hitting shots, mostly because they don’t have many real shot-makers. Jimmer Fredette, who is on the court, was intended to be one of those, but he’s never panned out as one.
Second quarter, 10:39, Kings 29-25: Kelly Olynyk got a putback dunk. Result: Immediate timeout by Kings coach Mike Malone.
As we mentioned, the Kings don’t seem very dedicated to defense or boxing out. Letting Olynyk swoop in for the tip slam was apparently a bit too much for Malone.
End of first quarter, Kings 29-21: DeMarcus Cousins has the makings of a really strong night ahead of him. He’s got 13 points, facing off against a mixed defensive look consisting of Sullinger, Bass, Olynyk and even Joel Anthony. He’s taken nine shots, hitting six, so it’s been an efficient effort.
Of course, it helps that he saves his energy on the defensive end.
Olynyk has four rebounds already, two of which are offensive, against Cousins, who is averse to boxing out. The best defensive play Cousins pitched in was standing in the way of a Jeff Green drive, which wiped out a dunk by Chris Johnson.
First quarter, 5:32, Celtics 16-15: Jared Sullinger and DeMarcus Cousins have the beginnings of a nice mano a mano battle working tonight. In that case, this game might be worth the price of admission.
Sully has seven points and Cousins has six points as both teams have run their offenses through their centers. They’re going right at each other, too. If this turns into a scoring contest, it definitely favors Cousins and the Kings, but it would still be fun to watch.
6:14 p.m.: Despite a shortage of wins, the presence of some intriguing young stars made this an interesting matchup coming in. Rajon Rondo and Rudy Gay are at the top of many fans’ must-see list as the trade deadline approaches.
Now, whatever luster this game might have had took a hit.
Gay is ill and will be out for the Sacramento Kings, as will Marcus Thornton, Kings coach Mike Malone said. Combined with the absences of Rondo and Avery Bradley, the star quality of this game continues to decline.
The projected starters — what’s left of them — are below.
4:12 p.m.: Just when the Celtics have shown what they can do with both Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley in the backcourt, their two starting guards could be sidelined against tonight.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens said in a radio interview this morning that Rondo was unlikely to play and that Bradley was “50/50″ to suit up against the Sacramento Kings. The Celtics have won consecutive games for the first time since Dec. 16, and are seeking their first three-game win streak since Dec. 8.
8 a.m. ET: With one win, the Boston Celtics vaulted back within realistic striking distance of the Eastern Conference playoff picture. How confident you are in their ability to stay there depends on how green-tinted your glasses are. But the dream isn’t dead on Causeway Street.
For just the fourth time all season, the Celtics (17-33) are on a win streak. Wednesday’s victory over the Philadelphia 76ers gave the Celtics consecutive wins for the first time since Dec. 16, which is sort of a long time. They’ll try for another win Friday against the Sacramento Kings (16-32), who have their own problems.
DeMarcus Cousins has been outstanding, Isaiah Thomas is one of the NBA’s most fun players to watch and Rudy Gay has been a revelation since he arrived via a trade with the Toronto Raptors. But Cousins and Gay both have battled injuries lately, and they have not been able to keep the Kings out of last place in the Western Conference. They are 6-9 against the East, though, compared to 10-23 against the West, so the Kings have to be licking their chops heading into this game.
Join us for updates and analysis from TD Garden during the game, which tips off at 7:30 p.m.