Sullinger Outshines Cousins, Leads C's to W

BOSTON – Celtics fans who flooded into TD Garden on Friday were greeted with unsettling news: Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley both would not play against the Sacramento Kings.

By the time they filed out of the Garden a couple of hours later, that fact was long forgotten. Fans couldn’t care less about who didn’t play Friday night. All that mattered was that Boston’s rising star, Jared Sullinger, did play.

Jared Sullinger runs in front of DeMarcus Cousins

Jared Sullinger outworked DeMarcus Cousins and the Kings Wednesday night as he racked up 31 points and 16 rebounds.
Brian Babineau/NBAE/Getty Images

And play he did.

Sullinger single-handedly powered Boston to its third straight victory with a career-high 31 points to go along with 16 rebounds against Sacramento. He played like a superstar and turned Rondo and Bradley’s absences into long-forgotten facts.

“Like we talked about last week: fair or unfair, that’s who we need him to be,” Brad Stevens said after watching his big man dominate the Kings. “And so that’s the opportunity in front of him. He’s capable, and I’m not saying that you have to get a double-double every day, but he’s darn near capable of doing that.”

Apparently he’s already capable of outdueling a borderline All-Star.

Poll anyone who follows the NBA about the biggest All-Star snubs this season and Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins is sure to show up on nearly all of the ballots. He has solidified himself as a nightly double-double guy with his averages of 23 points and 12 rebounds a night.

Cousins, as Stevens described him, “is a load.” He is a 6-foot-11 big man with both power and finesse who can score and rebound with anyone in the league.

To his credit, Sullinger matches up with some of those characteristics, but size is not one of them. He gave up at least two inches and 10 pounds to Cousins, yet on Friday, the two stood eye to eye.

How can a guy who’s giving up that much size go out and dominate an NBA game against a big man like Cousins? That’s the magic of Jared Sullinger.

“That’s what makes Jared unique,” said Stevens. “He’s a big, strong guy that can score over bigger guys in the post.”

“Using my body,” Sullinger added. “Just trying to find angles. That’s how I score.”

But you don’t put up a 31-point, 16-rebound game simply by scoring in the post. You’ve got to bring it in all facets of the game, and that’s what made this performance by Sullinger so impressive.

The big man seemed like he was everywhere during this game. He crashed the glass at both ends of the court, allowing him to grab four offensive rebounds that led to eight second-chance points. He made jumpers, tip-ins and post ups. Sullinger played with a level of grit and greatness that just can’t be taught.

“Outworked us,” Kings coach Mike Malone said of Sullinger. “I told our guys in the huddle, ‘This is not a game plan, this is not coverage. This is effort. I have no defensive game plan or adjustment we can make for rebounding the basketball, but its just hard work.’ Jared Sullinger outworked us.”

The Kings shouldn’t feel too bad about that fact. Sullinger outworked everyone in the arena Friday night. No one did their job as well as he did. Not the ushers, not the coaches, not anyone on the court with him. He was a cut above the rest, particularly in the fourth quarter.

Sullinger put together numbers in the final frame that many would consider a solid game. He dropped in 14 of his 31 points in the final quarter while shooting 6-of-8 from the field. He also grabbed five boards in the fourth as he put the Celtics on his back and carried them to the winner’s circle.

It’s tough to expect that from a second-year player, particularly when he’s facing off against a borderline All-Star. On this night, however, he made everyone forget about Rondo and Bradley while he shined brighter than everyone else in the arena.

Which leads us to ponder one important question: If Cousins is a borderline All-Star and Sullinger just outperformed him while leading the Celtics to a victory, what does that say about the future of Boston’s second-year big man?

“I just think the sky’s the limit,” said Stevens.

It sure looked that way Friday night.