Sullinger Outperforms Love at TD Garden

BOSTON – Kevin Love is an MVP candidate, but he wasn’t the MVP of Monday night’s game between the Boston Celtics and Minnesota Timberwolves.

That distinction falls on the shoulders of Jared Sullinger, who outplayed the red-hot Love and led the Celtics to a 101-97 victory.

Sullinger put the Celtics on his shoulders during the fourth quarter of a neck-and-neck game. He scored big points, grabbed big rebounds, and was a force that Minnesota had no answers for.

Jared Sullinger points to the skies

Jared Sullinger was No. 1 on Monday - as in the No. 1 player on the court.
David Sherman/NBAE/Getty Images

“He was phenomenal, down the stretch especially,” teammate Kelly Olynyk said of Sullinger. “He hit a huge 3, free throws to seal the game, and a couple of big rebounds. Not much more you can ask for from a guy.”

As Brad Stevens phrased it, “He did take it up a notch at the end.”

He took it to a notch that not even a legitimate MVP candidate could reach.

Sullinger scored 15 of his team-high 24 points in the final frame, including seven of Boston’s final nine points of the night. He also hauled in several key rebounds during the final minutes of the game to help Boston grab the win.

Meanwhile, Love tried unsuccessfully to match Sullinger’s follow-my-lead ways. The All-Star forward, whose 27 points and 14 rebounds led the game, was mediocre down the stretch. He scored seven points in the final quarter while shooting just 3-of-7 from the field.

The fact that Sullinger outplayed Love would probably catch many people off guard, but Sullinger himself is not in that group. He knows what he’s capable of, and leading his team to victory is nothing new to him.

“I’ve been doing it for so many years,” said Sullinger. “I was just playing basketball.”

To be precise, he was playing confident and dominant basketball, the kind that All-Stars display. Sullinger said after the game that one of his coaches had motivated him to reach that level during the fourth quarter.

“I passed a lot of shots up in the third quarter where I was wide-open and I tried to get better shots for my teammates,” Sullinger said, “Then Walt (assistant coach Walter McCarty) grabbed me to the bench and just said, ‘Just shoot the ball. That’s what great players do. When you’re wide-open, shoot the ball. Believe me, every shot that you take, we have confidence in you, and you have to have confidence in yourself to shoot it.’

“When I heard that, obviously my confidence went through the roof, especially coming from a coach. Once you hear, ‘Shoot the ball,’ you kind of automatically shoot it the next time down.”

It would be safe to assume that Love heard similar comments from his coaches during his second year in the league. Now, a few short years later, he’s one of the best in the game. The hope is that Sullinger can follow a similar path while learning from the guy he outperformed on Monday.

“I think obviously Kevin is considered an elite NBA player,” said Stevens, “and Jared is a rising NBA player.

“We’re asking questions, ‘Can Jared shoot the 3?’ Or, ‘Can Jared shoot jump shots?’ [Love has] taken that, and now he’s an elite shooter too. So that’s where, I think Jared is a really good shooter, but I think he can just get better and better.”

Isn’t that a scary thought? We’re talking about a kid who’s only 68 games into his NBA career; a kid who just outperformed an MVP candidate.

He sure didn’t look like a kid Monday night.