With just over a quarter of the 2013-14 NBA season in the record books, it has been one of the more surprising seasons in recent memory. A good word to describe this season would be “looming.”
There is a franchise changing talent stacked draft class looming. There are season altering trades looming. The constant threat of free agency is looming. All of these factors have been discussed by Celtics fans ad nauseum by Celtics fans since last summer’s trade of Pierce and Garnett. How will the Celtics win? How will they compete? How does Danny lock up a top 3 pick? Are we going to tank?
Right there on the front lines battling perception is the Celtics sophomore big man Jared Sullinger, whose emergence as a threat on both sides of the ball and Celtics go-to-guy when the game is on the line is becoming the feel good story of the year.
For Sullinger, last night’s win against Minnesota was a statement game. Scoring 23 points and grabbing 11 rebounds is nothing new- he’s been contributing at this level all season. What stood out more than his box score was his end-of-game effort; Sullinger scored seven of the Celtics final nine points.
Late in the fourth quarter with the game tied at 92, Sullinger came up big every time he had the ball in his hands, securing the lead and the win for the Celtics. To put it in the simplest terms, he came through when the Celtics needed it most.
His effort did not go unnoticed. During the post-game, everyone asked had something to say about Sullinger’s play on Monday night.
"He (Sullinger) did take it up a notch at the end," Stevens said. "He's a scorer. He's always been a scorer. He's been a scorer as long as I've known him. So it doesn't surprise me when he scores and makes plays."
Bradley on Sullinger: That's Celtics basketball, and he's the definition of that right now."— Ben Rohrbach (@brohrbach) December 17, 2013
"He has got a nice touch," said Love who led all players with 27 points and 14 rebounds. "Tonight he played well."
In the abscence of Kevin Garnett, Sullinger has taken on much more than just blocking opponent’s post-whistle shots; he is becoming the vocal leader on this team.
Even with the threat of trades, tanking, and playing the draft as opposed to playing the season on the tip of every team’s tongue this season, Sullinger is standing strong as the cornerstone of the Non-Tank Squad. Jared Sullinger isn’t here to “play the game”… Jared Sullinger is here to win.
Follow Padraic O'Connor on Twitter @padraic_oconnor
Source: A. Sherrod Blakely; CSNNE.com Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images