BOSTON — When Kelly Olynyk checked in early in the fourth quarter Wednesday, curiosity was piqued across press row at TD Garden. When Joel Anthony joined him at the scorer’s table, a minor riddle became an all-out Agatha Christie mystery.
Jared Sullinger, the top big man for the Boston Celtics, stayed glued to the bench for most of the fourth quarter, finally checking in at the 5:26 mark and playing the rest of the way. He struggled in the 104-92 loss to the San Antonio Spurs, scoring four points on 2-for-9 shooting with seven rebounds, but not so much to deserve a performance-related benching.
The absence raised fair questions about Sullinger’s physical status, given his long list of ailments, from his back to his hands. It turned out Sullinger’s situation was medical in nature — but not so much as to worry the team long-term. Celtics coach Brad Stevens let everyone know it was OK to exhale in his postgame press conference.
“He had IVs this morning, didn’t go through walkthroughs,” Stevens said. “He was pretty sick. He tried to give it a go — I thought he played with pretty decent effort — but I didn’t think he looked the same. I think we all probably agreed with that.”
The Celtics (19-35) needed able bodies to match up against the Spurs (38-15) and Tim Duncan. At 37 years old, Duncan didn’t act his age on Wednesday, scoring 25 points and nabbing nine rebounds in a performance worthy of his future Hall of Fame stature. With Sullinger in a weakened state, Stevens turned to veterans Anthony and Kris Humphries to contend with Duncan. Stevens also leaned on Olynyk, and the rookie didn’t fare too badly.
Olynyk recorded his second straight double-double, finishing with 15 points and 10 rebounds in the loss. He flashed a midrange game the Celtics have insisted he possesses, despite a lack of evidence through the season’s first three months, as well as a promising passing touch out of the high post. He didn’t defend Duncan — Stevens is confident in the rookie, but not that confident — though he did acquit himself well enough to impress Sullinger, whom he will join in the Rising Stars Challenge game on Friday as part of NBA All-Star weekend.
Sullinger was less content with his performance, sick or not. This season has been an endless string of nagging injuries and now illness, yet the second-year big man has battled through almost all of them. He has missed only two of the Celtics’ 54 games so far this season, and he played down the effect his latest malady had on his play.
“I missed a lot of shots,” Sullinger said. “I don’t think (being sick) really affected me. I was a little off in my routine, because I came in a little later because Eddie (Lacerte, the Celtics’ head athletic trainer) wanted me to stay in bed. So I was just off my routine a little bit, and as a result, I missed a lot of shots I normally make. That’s all.”
With an off day on Tuesday, Stevens took advantage of the fortuitous break in the schedule to show support for a former player and friend. Stevens stopped in Zionsville, Ind., to visit Andrew Smith, a former Butler player who was recently diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
“You hate to see anybody go through that, let alone a 23-year-old, but he is a tough cookie, man,” Stevens said. “You talk about the strengths of different people and all the things we talk about in regard to talent, but his toughness level is as high as they come. I have no doubt that he’ll kick this thing to the curb.”
For a former reality TV star, Humphries has an amazing lack of pretense. He doesn’t give answers that “grow his personal brand,” or whatever it is people who are famous for being famous call it. He gives answers that are honest, even if they don’t make him look or sound all that good.
Humphries was asked, with the Winter Olympics in full swing, which Olympic event he would most like to participate in. Most of his teammates opted for sports like snowboarding, which has a coolness factor to it, or whatever word it is snowboarders use that is a synonym for “cool.”
But Humphries isn’t about being cool. He’s about spinning and lutzing.
“It’s kind of weird, I don’t know if I’d want to play it, but I always grew up watching figure skating with my mom,” Humphries said. “It’s pretty impressive. I don’t think I could ever do it, but I’ve got a lot of respect for them. And I grew up with the Tonya Harding, the Tonya tapper, that whole deal. So I’m waiting for some action to come back into that sport.”
Humphries might never be able to shake the negative reaction many fans have toward him. In some people’s minds, Humphries apparently committed the unforgivable sin of dating and marrying a rich, beautiful, famous woman. But very little of what the veteran big man does or says is an act.
He like figure skating. He admits it. He’s stayed real, even after all his exposure to such an unreal lifestyle.