BOSTON -- Boston Celtics second-year forward Jared Sullinger did not participate in the team's morning shootaround on Friday due to illness, but toughed out 31 quality minutes against one of the NBA's top front lines in a 97-82 loss to the Eastern Conference-leading Indiana Pacers at TD Garden.
Sullinger helped limit Roy Hibbert to six points on 3-of-11 shooting despite needing fluids and an IV while trying to flush the illness that left him feverish on Friday morning.
"I was playing tonight, regardless," said Sullinger, who finished with 13 points on 6-of-12 shooting with five rebounds and two assists. "It took a lot out of me. [The Celtics have a] back-to-back -- get some rest, get some fluids, and try to get back at it tomorrow."
If his battle with illness left him weak, Sullinger didn't show it on Friday. He worked hard to keep Hibbert off the blocks, often trying to push him away from the basket or disrupt his ability to catch the ball cleanly near the hoop. As Sullinger noted, "In this league, if you let a premier player like Roy Hibbert catch the ball in the blocks, you’re dead. I was just trying to make it tough on him."
Said Celtics coach Brad Stevens of Sullinger's efforts against Hibbert: "Pretty good 1-on-1 [defense], no question about it. I thought he did a pretty good job. Roy Hibbert is a load down there. I thought Jared gave us 31 pretty good minutes. And he was actually sick earlier today -- I think he didn’t go through our walk-through at all. He did a pretty good job considering."
According to individual defensive data logged by Synergy Sports, Sullinger allowed a mere eight points on 12 possessions defended (0.667 points per play). Five of those possessions came against Hibbert in the first quarter and, after allowing Indy's big man to make a little left-handed hook shot in the game's opening minutes, Sullinger responded by limiting Hibbert to one made basket on six more head-to-head possessions the rest of the game.
The final line for Hibbert versus Sullinger: 2-of-4 shooting, four points, three turnovers. That included Sullinger's drawing two offensive foul calls.
Sullinger and the Celtics seemed to run out of gas in the second half as Indiana cranked the defensive pressure and took control of the game. Boston got sloppy after the intermission, too, turning the ball over 23 times overall (which led to 30 points for the Pacers).
Asked about some lazy giveaways, Sullinger said, "We gotta value the ball like gold."
Given how valuable he tends to be on the floor, the Celtics need to treat Sullinger like gold as well. Asked if he'd be available on Saturday in Atlanta, particularly with rookie (and fellow frontcourt starter) Kelly Olynyk nursing a sprained right ankle, Sullinger said simply, "Yeah, I’ll be playing."