Sullinger Gains Entry into Elite Club
BOSTON – Jared Sullinger is 21 years old, but he didn’t need identification to enter his most recent club. He just kicked the doors down and walked right in.
Sully, welcome to the 20/20 Club.
This place celebrates elite performances by big men. Current Hall of Famers, future Hall of Famers, and even a few surprises have gained entry to this club. Sullinger now has a lifetime pass.
The second-year big man out of Ohio State joined elite company Wednesday night by becoming the first Celtics player since 2007, and just the sixth since 1985, with a 20-point, 20-rebound game. Sullinger accomplished that lofty feat by leading the Celtics to an 88-83 victory over the visiting Raptors with game highs of 25 points and 20 boards.
You have to turn the clock back – way back – to find the last time any member of the Celtics put forth a performance like this. Try Nov. 2, 2007. The first game of the most recent Big Three Era.
Kevin Garnett opened up his Celtics career that night in overwhelming fashion. In his first game with the green and white, he tallied 22 points and 20 rebounds. Garnett played six full seasons with Boston. He did not record another 20-20 game during that time.
Think about that. As great as Garnett was in Boston, he had just one 20-20 performance in 480 games with Boston. Jared Sullinger just played his 82nd game as a professional. He has already matched the Big Ticket in this category with Boston and is now sitting next to him at the club.
“That’s big time,” Sullinger said of joining his former teammate in the 20-20 club. “He’s a Hall of Famer.”
Seconds later, Sullinger’s thoughts darted in another direction. He felt the need to dish out an assist to his fellow Celtics rather than reel in another rebound.
“But at the same time, I couldn’t do that without my teammates,” the modest Sullinger said. “My teammates put me in the right positions to get the rebounds and also to score.”
One teammate in particular helped to set Sullinger up for his entry to the club. Sullinger was in the midst of a timeout with less than two minutes remaining in the game when his analytic teammate told him that he was on the verge of something big.
“I didn’t even think about it until (Rajon) Rondo told me, ‘Look up at the scoreboard. Get one more (rebound),’” Sullinger explained. “I happened to look up and saw 19 rebounds and I didn’t even know I had that many.”
Sullinger recalls what he was thinking when he returned to the floor, as well as when he finally hauled in his 20th board with 30.9 seconds remaining.
“I didn’t want to force it,” he said of trying to grab the 20th rebound. “But at the same time, it was a big accomplishment.”
It’s an accomplishment that Sullinger was born to achieve. He has been an elite rebounder throughout his entire life. He was blessed with the skills, which he showcased on Wednesday, that are needed in order to dominate the glass.
“He was active and aggressive and assertive in going after the ball, that’s No. 1. High motors are always made for great rebounders,” Brad Stevens said of Sullinger after the win. “But then No. 2 is, he’s quicker off the floor than people would think and he’s got outstanding hands – I mean outstanding hands – and he always has had that.”
Even with that knowledge, Stevens wasn’t entirely sure that Sullinger would be able to enter an elite club like this at basketball’s highest level.
“I’m impressed with his ability to rebound at this level,” said Stevens. “I wasn’t sure when I watched him play growing up that he’d be able to do that the same, and it’s translated at every level for him.”
It has translated to the point where Sullinger has caused other established players on the court to stop and stare.
“He was being so aggressive in going after the ball that I found myself watching him rebound,” Kris Humphries admitted with a laugh.
Let’s be honest. There aren’t too many 260-pound players in the league who cause their peers to stop and watch in amazement.
Then again, there aren’t too many players who have entered the 20/20 Club, either.