Sully's Sanctuary: A Late-Night Visit to the Gym

WALTHAM, Mass. – The final buzzer of Friday night’s game at TD Garden sounded off at 9:51 p.m.

For most of the 17,989 people who were in attendance, that horn signaled the official start of their weekend. For one 6-foot-9 man who was in the building, however, it signaled the beginning of a long night of work.

Jared Sullinger wasn’t interested in acting like a typical 22-year-old on a Friday night. He didn’t want to join the thousands of fans who spilled out of the Garden and into the local nightlife scene. His plans were quite the opposite.

Following what may have been the worst performance of his young career – a zero-point, four-rebound effort against New York – Sullinger jumped into his car and drove out to the team’s practice facility in Waltham, Mass. He needed to be alone, accompanied only by his thoughts and the sound of his basketball falling through the net.

“I’ve been doing that since I was in high school,” Sullinger said of his late-night visit to the gymnasium, which began no earlier than 11 p.m. “I have a bad game and I used to ask my dad, ‘Can we go to the gym?’ I just get some shots up and just get back to what works for me.”

Under the dimmed lights of an otherwise vacant facility, Sullinger got to work. He fired up hundreds of shots. He honed his offensive skills. He closed his eyes and saw what he should have done to lead the Celtics to a victory against an archrival.

“You almost kind of replay the game in your head and think about opportunities you had to score. You visualize the game,” he explained. “It’s almost to the point where you’re playing a 5-on-5 game with just yourself out there.”

The official time of Friday’s game was two hours and 11 minutes. Sullinger’s personal game in Waltham lasted even longer.

More than three hours passed before the third-year power forward was able to get everything out of his system. As the bars on Causeway Street closed up shop for the night, Sullinger remained on the replica parquet floor, ball in hand.

He did not leave the facility until after 2 a.m.

Strange to many, but normal to Sullinger. This is his medicine. This is how he fixes himself. Isolation; first in a gym, and then everywhere else.

“I turn my phone off,” he said. “I don’t like talking.”

Sullinger, who has scored a total of just 10 points over his last three games, stated that his phone has been completely off for the past four or five days. He hasn’t talked. He hasn’t texted. He hasn’t even tweeted since Dec. 7, which, by no coincidence, is the last day in which he scored in double-figures.

Sullinger hopes to reverse those trends with a strong performance Monday night in Philadelphia. God knows that he has put in the work to make that happen.

While many of Boston’s 22-year-olds were busy at the bars Friday night, Sullinger was committed to the court, his sanctuary. He has known for years that putting in extra work, even into the wee hours of a Friday night, is the best remedy to a funk.

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