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Jared Sullinger goes up strong against the Knicks.NEW YORK -- Just in case there was any doubt about Jared Sullinger's immediate future with the Boston Celtics, coach Doc Rivers put that firmly to rest following the team's 102-96 victory over the New York Knicks on Monday night.
After Sullinger, whose name has popped up in the season's first batch of irrational trade rumors, scored 10 points, pulled down five rebounds and registered a team-best plus-9 in the plus/minus column, Rivers reiterated his rookie's lasting value to Boston.
"Sullinger, man, I'm telling you -- Jared's a warrior. He's not going anywhere," Rivers said. "He's just a physical, tough kid, and it was fun to watch."
In Monday's win -- Boston's third straight -- Sullinger brought a potent mix of composure and tenacity, never once seeming overwhelmed as the atmosphere on the floor grew more hostile with each passing quarter and the teams exchanged the lead and traded clutch shots. While some rookies might have stumbled on such a bright stage, Sullinger thrived, even later scoffing at the notion of Monday's game being what was described to him as "testy."
"That's testy? That's testy?" Sullinger said afterward. "I've seen way worse stuff in the '80s and I wasn't even born in the '80s. So if that's testy, I didn't see it."
Sullinger has embraced being a rookie all season, and is now even using it to his advantage. He anticipates veteran opponents overlooking him because of his first-year status, and also because he's a bit undersized for his position. But as opponents have been learning since the season began, it's Sullinger's effort, and not his size, that they need to be worrying about. While the likes of Tyson Chandler and Amare Stoudemire might have initially snubbed Sullinger's presence on Monday, it wasn't long before he was a sharp thorn in both of their sides.
"My role is to be that nagging rookie nobody likes. So when I check in they go, 'Oh, it's that rookie,'" Sullinger said. "That's my whole goal this year. That's my role -- rebound, finish at the rim, knock down open shots and be a nagging rookie. That's my goal."
"Everybody probably thinks that just because I'm a rookie, they say something, I'm going to back down," he continued. "But I grew up around basketball. I played with some of the best, so talking doesn't really affect me."
Sullinger's most important play came just before the third-quarter buzzer, when he fought hard for an offensive rebound off an Avery Bradley missed 3-pointer and managed to put it back in before the horn sounded. The basket gave Boston, which held the Knicks to just 16 points in the frame, a 76-72 edge and some considerable momentum heading into the final 12 minutes.
It's plays like those that Rivers keeps in mind when referencing Sullinger's job security. But he also has this to consider: With Sullinger's latest plus-9 on Monday, he advanced to the top spot on the team in overall plus/minus for the season, now wielding a plus-42, ahead of even Kevin Garnett's lofty plus-37 figure.
“I’m the guy always going for the offensive boards,” Sullinger said. “I’m the guy that’s always putting up a fight. So, yeah, I see it [getting under opponents’ skin.]"
Maybe in time opponents will learn that Sullinger boasts a presence that has to be reckoned with. But as that could change in the coming weeks and months, one thing won’t: As Rivers noted, Sullinger will be a Boston Celtic.