This is all new to Jared Sullinger.
Not the NBA — well, that’s new too — but more so what’s been going on with his NBA team, the Celtics.
They’ve been losing. A lot. Boston currently stands at 14-17 after its 93-83 loss to the Grizzlies Wednesday night, the seventh loss in nine games.
The C’s are on a four game losing streak, having been swept away in California the weekend prior.
The words “losing streak” and “Jared Sullinger” have never gone hand-in-hand before this season. But Boston went on its first losing streak – two games − back on Nov. 18-21 after a loss in Detroit and then against the Spurs at home.
Now, it seems like losing streaks are the new thing — something that Sullinger is certainly not adapting to, but going through.
“I think this is the first time in my career losing two in a row,” Sullinger said. “I never lost two in a row. So this is the first time losing two and a row and I’m still not used to it. But I think that’s what’s driving me to play harder and harder every game and just try to help the team win in any aspects of the game.”
Most NBA players grew up on great basketball teams whether in AAU, high school, or college. Sullinger has always been a top talent and therefore wins were the norm. In his senior year, he led his #1 ranked Northland High School team to a 21-0 season. As a freshman at Ohio State, the Buckeyes went 32-2. As a sophomore, they went 31-8, but never lost two in a row (although they did lose three out of five from Feb. 11-26).
“I’m learning how to let go on losses,” Sullinger said. “That’s one thing I’m learning how to do, and understanding that every day is a new day to get better. So I’m not holding on to the past. So if this slide helped me do anything, it’s learn how to let go.”
And you certainly can’t blame this current rut the C’s are in on Sullinger. In actuality, he’s been one of the major bright spots. While Jason Collins continues to get starts at center (for now), it’s been Sullinger who has played with lots of energy and enthusiasm.
On the year, he’s averaging 5.5 points and 5.3 rebounds in 18.1 minutes per game. he recorded a career high 16 points in Boston’s last win – on Christmas Day over the Nets – and recorded 12 points and eight rebounds on 6-of-8 from the field in a loss against the Warriors.
“I’m just playing hard, that’s all,” Sullinger said. “I’m the youngest on the team, so why not play hard every game? I’m not going to save my legs because I’m playing long minutes like Rondo, but I only play about 20-25 minutes so might as well play hard the whole time I’m out there on the floor.”
And his teammates are noticing. Sullinger played crucial minutes in the fourth quarter Wednesday, a sure sign that he’s contributing the way that the coaching staff and his teammates want. His stats in the loss – two points, five rebounds – don’t jump out at you, but his improvement overall is obvious.
“He’s earned that,” Kevin Garnett said of Sullinger’s playing time. “Jared’s earned this trust; Doc’s trust, the trust of his teammates and others. I think all the playing time that he’s getting he’s definitely earned. He’s giving him a lift. He’s coming in rebounding like a monster … he’s getting better, so that’s a good sign for us.”
And while his play may not be translating to wins now, there’s good reason to believe his continued growth will be a factor in wins down the road.