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C's need Sully to bust out of slump

AP Photo/Steven Senne

The fact that the Boston Celtics are riding a three-game losing streak and that third-year big man Jared Sullinger is battling a three-game slump is not a coincidence. Sullinger, when playing to his standards, has helped Boston produce some of its best basketball this season, and this mini funk helps explains why the Celtics have endured a series of head-shaking losses in recent outings.

Since his arrival in the league, Sullinger's on/off court splits have been among the best on the team. He's a plus/minus darling and often emerges with numbers glossier than many of his teammates who play similar minutes.

Sullinger is not without his warts, but his value to this team is undeniable. His ceiling is as intriguing as anyone's in Boston's young core. Maybe that's why this three-game slump has been so surprising, because Sullinger simply has been a model of consistency over his brief NBA career. He's battling maybe his worst stretch since arriving in Boston.

Sullinger missed all six shots he took Friday night against the Knicks, going scoreless for the first time since Jan. 30, 2013, the night his rookie season ended when he suffered a back injury only four minutes into a game.

Over the past three outings, Sullinger is averaging more fouls per game (3.7) than points (3.3). He's shooting only 19 percent from the field and he simply doesn't look himself at either end. All of this coming after a stretch in which he seemed to find consistency with his 3-point shot and was averaging a double-double over the first four games of December, helping Boston put together a season-best three-game winning streak in that span.

Even as the Celtics have endured a number of near misses this season, Sullinger has dutifully engaged in postgame media responsibilities, trying to provide answers to questions that the Celtics themselves haven't been able to solve. That's why Sullinger gets a pass for ducking out quickly after Friday's loss to the Knicks, because chances are his slump is eating him up inside.

Celtics coach Brad Stevens went to bat for Sullinger after Friday's game.

"Sully's a really good player who's had a couple tough games in a row," said Stevens. "I think the most important thing we can do is encourage him, but we certainly need him to be good. But there's a lot of things when you lose a game that factor into losing the game, and so I don't think it's any one person's play or any two people's play -- it's a collective effort, win or lose."

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