BOSTON -- Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens has tried to distance himself a bit from a reputation as an analytics guy and there's maybe no better example than his unwavering support of Jared Sullinger shooting 3-pointers.
Consider that, in the three-month span from Dec. 21 to March 21, Sullinger shot a cringe-worthy 19.4 percent (20-of-103) beyond the arc. That included 18.8 percent (6-of-32) for the month of March entering Wednesday's tilt against the Toronto Raptors, and grumbles about Sullinger's shot selection had turned to screams recently.
Undeterred, Sullinger scored 19 of his game-high 26 points in the fourth quarter Wednesday, making all three 3-pointers he put up in the frame while finishing 4-of-6 overall beyond the arc and aiding a late Boston rally. The Raptors, fueled by their own 3-point exploits of Terrence Ross (24 points) and Kyle Lowry (23 points), who combined for nine triples, were able to escape TD Garden with a 99-90 triumph.
Sullinger found a tiny silver lining in his long-range shooting. And that's why he cut off a question being posed that noted that there had "been a lot of criticism about you shooting the ball." Clarified Sullinger, "Shooting the 3." Yes, he's well aware of those who desire him to stay inside the arc (and, more specifically, the paint).
"I really don’t care what the naysayers say," said Sullinger. "Some of y’all are here, right now. I can care less. I’m just trying to expand my game and if I’m open I’m going to shoot it."
While the Celtics have a need for Sullinger and his box-truck frame around the basket, particularly in a season where there's no pure center to pair alongside him, there's also a belief within the organization that he has the shooting potential to stretch his range beyond the arc and thrive, with shades of Kevin Love.
There are worse times to work on adding to your NBA toolbox than in a transition season, but it's on Sullinger to prove that he can make that 3-point shot a consistent weapon.
"I still think, and maybe this is why I’m not as much an analytics guy as everyone portrays me to be, I still believe in him shooting," said Stevens. "I’ve seen him shoot, I believe in his form, I believe in how much he shoots. That doesn’t mean that he shouldn’t [shoot] when he’s not making them, [that] he shouldn’t find other options and alternatives. [Sullinger shooting] 4-for-6 [beyond the arc Wednesday] gave us a chance to win."
For the season, Sullinger is still shooting just 25.6 percent beyond the 3-point arc. By comparison, he is shooting 54.8 percent around the basket this season, but his numbers outside of 5 feet top out about 45.3 percent in the midrange. What the Celtics see is the potential for a comparable efficiency field goal percentage (adjusted to weigh the value of a 3-point shot) from beyond the arc when Sullinger takes jump shots.
But to keep shooting from distance, he must show he can make them more consistently over the long haul.
Read on for more postgame notes on Jeff Green's neck woes and more praise for Walter McCarty.
GREEN LIMITED BY NECK
Celtics forward Jeff Green played only 20 minutes Wednesday, including just eight minutes after the intermission. Stevens said he thought Green looked off, and the fact that Chris Johnson provided a much-needed energy boost off the bench made the decision to rest Green easier.
"I kind of told myself after watching the first half that I was going to give Jeff another try, see if he felt any better, but he looked miserable, to be honest," said Stevens. "If you have ever played with a neck that you can’t turn one way, it's not enjoyable. I thought Chris was ready and played great, had a couple looks late, but also played with great energy late, came up with loose balls. ... Chris makes us better, there is no question about it. He’s a really solid basketball player."
Johnson hustled his way to 13 points on 5-of-8 shooting with a rebound, steal and block over 26:16. He was plus-8 off the Boston bench. Green scored six points on 3-of-9 shooting with two rebounds and a block over 20 minutes. He was minus-14 overall.
"I didn’t go back with Jeff; you probably could see Jeff had a stiff neck and I thought he looked really uncomfortable out there, otherwise I would have gone back with him," said Stevens. "But it made us even smaller. [On Tuesday, Jeff] could hardly move [his neck]; today he didn’t look much better. Hopefully by the time we play again Friday he feels better."
STEVENS: I LOVE WALTAH! (AND THE REST OF MY STAFF)
Stevens again offered support for assistant coach Walter McCarty amid reports that he's drawing interest for the Boston College men's basketball vacancy.
"Speaking in real general terms, I think he’s a guy that, first of all he’s a great person. I think everybody in Boston knows that," said Stevens. "He knows basketball and he’s been in all different styles of basketball. He’s got a great personality that people would be drawn to -- both in the community and in regards to recruiting and everything else."
McCarty played 10 NBA seasons, including eight in Boston where he was a fan favorite. He's coached at the college level as an assistant at Louisville and has spent time as an NBA assistant with the Celtics and Indiana Pacers. McCarty won an NCAA championship at Kentucky in 1996.
Stevens used the discussion to laud his entire coaching staff and its contributions during a bump-filled transition season.
"I have a great staff," said Stevens. "It’s one of the things, I’ve always believed your team can be affected by team chemistry and staff chemistry. I think it's really important that you do your very best in our situation to maintain this level of chemistry because it is very, very good."