BOSTON -- After Sunday’s loss to the San Antonio Spurs, Celtics big man Jared Sullinger begrudgingly trudged into a pack of reporters and offered Marshawn Lynch-like brevity while tackling questions on the team's most lopsided loss of the season.
Fast forward to Wednesday’s 109-102 overtime triumph over the Detroit Pistons -- hot on the heels of a 23-point collapse in Atlanta 24 hours earlier -- and Sullinger practically skipped into the media scrum, his smile the only thing more eye-catching than his bright red pants. Sullinger grabbed a microphone of a local TV station and thrust it toward teammate Kelly Olynyk before playfully asking a question about his role in Boston’s victory, which snapped a five-game losing streak.
Yes, winning has a way of making everything better.
“It feels awesome,” Sullinger said before spotting veteran Gerald Wallace getting changed across the room. Wallace vented at times early last season when things went poorly for Boston’s young team. He eventually softened a bit and has remained a stoic presence through the Celtics’ early-season struggles.
“Everybody’s in a smiling mood,” Sullinger added. “Even Gerald [Wallace is] actually smiling, so that’s a plus.”
Make no mistake, the Celtics did not play a particularly crisp game on Wednesday. Boston benefited from jousting with a woeful Pistons squad, one that still rallied from an 11-point deficit with 3:28 left to tie the game with 15 seconds to play in regulation.
Sullinger (14 points, 8 rebounds) and Jeff Green (32 points, 6 3-pointers) -- both splashed triples at the start of the five-minute overtime period -- and Boston raced away in the extra session, sparing the team from having to once again tackle the question of why they can't close out games.
“I like tonight a lot better than all of them,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said with a smile.
Added Stevens: “I thought we did a lot of things well, but I didn’t think we played exceptionally well. I think, in a lot of our losses, we’ve played better.”
Yes, beggars can’t be choosers. Progress is good and playing mistake-free basketball is better. But ultimately, this is a bottom-line sport, and the Celtics were elated to simply see a game tip their way, despite their best efforts to mess it up.
“We still have to go back and reevaluate [the film] and look at it in reality,” Stevens said. “Try to get better from it and see if we can improve. I’m excited for the guys that they gutted one out when it kind of teeter-tottered back and forth of not going their way.”
The Celtics won Wednesday's game even as Rajon Rondo endures a funk that left him admitting after the game that, "I’ve not been myself." That meant the Celtics had to lean on the likes of Sullinger and Green in crunch time. Boston also got a boost from Evan Turner (9 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists) and Kelly Olynyk (20 points on 8-of-13 shooting) off the bench.
That's an encouraging sign for Stevens.
Before Wednesday’s game, the second-year coach held what felt like a casual state of the union while meeting with reporters and discussing Boston's fourth-quarter woes. Stevens mixed in a bit of humor and didn't seem overly stressed about the Celtics’ struggles, while admitting the team was desperate to simply get in the win column.
“I know a lot of people have asked me, does this team need to learn how to win?” Stevens said. “Man, I’ve been bristling at the question because we all see that you want to be able to get over the hump, maybe there is some of that, I don’t know.
“One of the responsibilities that I feel like I have is, we’ve got to get some of these young guys to become those guys. And we’ve got to get some of those young guys to, whether they are ready for it or not, to be the guy that is making a play, not only to make a big basket at the end of the game, but to stop a run. Having the toughness or the desire to want to make that play. I’ve got to do a better job in helping those guys believe that they can do that.”
So where is Stevens' frustration level at the moment?
“Well, when I turn on the news, I realize it’s still just coaching basketball,” he said. “But we've got to get over the hump.”
The Celtics got over the hump on Wednesday. The question now is, can they stay there? They're going to have to play better than they did Wednesday, but a win sure helped them feel better about themselves, at least for one game.