BOSTON – Tim Duncan who?
No offense to the future Hall of Famer, but Jared Sullinger was the best big man on the floor Wednesday night in San Antonio.
And it wasn’t even close.
Sullinger was unstoppable at the AT&T Center after being called upon by Brad Stevens for his first start of the season. Stevens left Sullinger on the court for 31-plus minutes and the big man delivered game highs of 19 points and 17 rebounds.
Not even Tim Duncan, an eight-time NBA All-Defensive First Teamer and former league MVP, could slow down Jared Sullinger Wednesday night.
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Simply put, this was a night in which the Spurs couldn't depend on anyone to counter Sullinger’s great performance. The answer was not Duncan, an eight-time NBA All-Defensive First Teamer. The answer was not Tiago Splitter, who is considered by many to be one of the top big man defenders in the game.
The answer, in short, was no one.
Now what would you be thinking if an NBA team had no answer for you? I know what I’d be thinking. First: 'Stop yourself from drooling.' Second: 'It's time for a career night.'
Sullinger, who’s as modest as they come, surely won’t admit that either of those thoughts passed through his head. And sure, maybe they didn’t in the heat of the moment. But that didn’t stop him from filling up the box score with the best all-around performance of his young and budding career.
Those 19 points accounted for the second-most he’s ever tallied in an NBA game, trailing only the 26 he dropped on the Trail Blazers Friday night at TD Garden. Sullinger’s 17 rebounds set a new career mark by eclipsing his previous career high of 16 boards. By hauling in 17 rebounds, Sullinger nearly doubled his previous season high of nine boards, which were grabbed Tuesday night in Houston.
Sullinger had played in NBA 55 games and had logged four career double-doubles prior to Wednesday night. What was the top performance out of all of those games? A 12-point, 16-rebound game from Jan. 9 of last season against the Phoenix Suns. This performance blew that one out of the water, and not only because of the statistics.
Look back at that Jan. 9 game and you’ll notice that Sullinger padded his stats that night while playing the entire fourth quarter of a dominant victory by the Celtics. Seven of his 16 boards and four of his 12 points were tallied in the final period, while Phoenix’s starting frontcourt of Marcin Gortat and Luis Scola totaled just 14 minutes of play.
This performance was different. This was against a future Hall of Famer in Duncan, who was drastically outplayed by the 21-year-old Sullinger. This was against the reigning Western Conference champs and near-NBA champs from a season ago, who had no answer for Sullinger.
This was a statement that Boston's talented sophomore has the ability to hand it to the best in the business.