BOSTON – After Danny Ainge's latest batch of trades, Jared Sullinger is now the leading scorer on the Boston Celtics. On Monday night, he lived up to that new label.
The third-year forward scored 13 of his season-high 27 points in the fourth quarter, helping proper the Celtics to a hard-fought 108-102 win over Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans.
It was a standout performance on a night in which the Celtics youth movement began to take greater shape. Ainge had officially dealt away Jeff Green to the Memphis Grizzlies Monday morning, paving the way for some of the team's younger core to take more of a leading role on and off the floor after a underwhelming start to the season.
"I haven't been too excited about what I've seen so far this whole year," Ainge said before Monday's game. "I haven't been excited about seeing 20 point leads get blown, but I'm certainly not blaming it on [Green and Rondo], but I mean we're just trying to get better. We have a lot of young guys now that have become more of a focal point for us and they have to get better. And now there's a little bit more onus on them to get better and take a little bit more responsibility."
Sullinger has lived up to that added onus in recent weeks. After an inconsistent month of December on the offensive end, the 22-year-old has scored in double figures in nine of his last 10 games, capped by Monday's stellar performance against one of the top frontcourts in the league. The big man did a little bit of everything for Boston in the win from a scoring location standpoint, something head coach Brad Stevens praised him for after the game.
"I thought today's a good example of [Sullinger's] versatility," Stevens said. "When we had (Brandon) Bass in the game, they usually matched up (Ryan) Anderson on him; when we had Kelly (Olynyk) in the game they had to match up (Omer) Asik on him. And so when Asik's on him he stretched it a little bit, and when Anderson was on him he posted. So that's why, in my opinion, a guy like Jared has to be able to do both, if he's going to be really good. I thought he did a lot of good things tonight. But the post scores helped us, the three-point play was huge, when we were down six, and then I thought the three at the top of the key was big too."
Defensively, Sullinger spent plenty of time attempting to limit Davis, who scored a game-high 34 points. Davis wreaked havoc with his superior size for much of the contest, but Sullinger and the rest of Boston's frontcourt kept him at bay down the stretch, limiting him to just two points in the game's final four minutes.
"You just have to find ways to stop him," Sullinger said. "You know you're not going to consistently stop him every single time but just trying to make him earn every shot, and I thought we did a good job tonight making him earn it."
As Ainge starts to take stock of his roster while entering for the next stage of the rebuild, it's going to be time for him to differentiate the keepers on his team from the future trade chips.
"I think that's very important for us to know who [our players] are," Ainge quipped. "I think that it's a real challenge going into every offseason and not being quite sure what you have and what your players are."
With his play as of late, Sullinger is starting to prove he belongs in the keeper column.
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