ALBANY, N.Y. — Jared Sullinger is bringing another dimension to the Celtics on the offensive boards. Sullinger had 10 points and a game-high eight rebounds in the Celtics’ 109-98 win over the New York Knicks Saturday night and is averaging 2.8 offensive rebounds in seven preseason games.
Last season, Brandon Bass led the Celtics (3-4) on the offensive glass with 1.6 per game.
“You’ve just got to know your teammates and be able to carve out space on the offensive end,” Sullinger said. “You know when somebody’s about to shoot, their go-to move. And the shot clock, you’ve just got to be ready.
“[Coach Doc Rivers] wants me to go every time. So, I’m always going to go; if I’m on the perimeter, maybe not. But if I’m in the paint I’m going to go, and my main goal is try to get the ball and get us extra production.”
Sullinger, averaging 10.9 points and a team-leading 7.1 rebounds, was expected to be a high draft choice, but the Celtics took him at No. 21.
“I’m blessed, it was a blessing in disguise,” Sullinger said of falling in the draft. “The way this team is playing, and how close-knit we are, it’s helping us tremendously.”
Sullinger made his fifth start against the Knicks and could be in the starting lineup in the season-opener at Miami Oct. 30.
“Like I say, it doesn’t matter,” Sullinger said. “When I come out of the game it’s not like — it’s a different dynamic. When I come out of the game we only get better, so it doesn’t matter.
“I mean, playing with these guys, they make the game so much easier.”
The Celtics were erring on the side of caution in their fifth game in eight days, protecting players against the Knicks.
Kevin Garnett and captain Paul Pierce were both held out of action, and Bass (knee) and Darko Milicic (wrist) were rested. Bass, Garnett, and Milicic will be available for the final preseason contest against the Philadelphia 76ers Sunday. The status of Pierce (ankle) and recently-acquired guard Leandro Barbosa has not been determined.
“We wanted Darko to play but we will give [the wrist] one more day,” Rivers said. “If it was a regular-season game, Brandon would play. And we’ll see tomorrow with Paul.
“With [Barbosa], he has to go through so many physical things. If he finishes in time, yeah, he’ll play. He gets to have training camp, which is good.”
But Rivers also noted the Celtics’ improved depth.
“I think we can sustain an injury,” Rivers said. “We don’t want one, but I think this team is deep enough to get away with it for a while. And, last year, we were pretty thin, extremely thin.”
Jeff Green scored 25 points and Jason Terry added 22 points as the Celtics overcame a 20-point first half deficit against the Knicks. Chris Copeland totaled 34 points for the Knicks.
“I liked the small lineup stuff,” Rivers said. “We told the guys going into the game we were basically going to run pick and roll game, no matter who’s on the floor. We just wanted to see different formations and we were going to run the pick and roll over and over again. And we did that and we did it with different guys. Courtney [Lee] and [Terry] were great and [Rajon] Rondo, obviously, is a great pick-and-roll player. That was good to see, because now we have three different guys we can run different pick and roll sets from.”
Rivers said Garnett would likely play “first half minutes” and Rondo, who went for 30 minutes, 51 seconds against the Knicks, could play reduced time against the Sixers.
“Rondo’s young, what is he saving them for?” Rivers said of Rondo’s minutes. “When I was young I wanted to play in every game, every exhibition game. And, then, I got smart.”
Rookie Kris Joseph scored 13 points for the Celtics.
“It’s hard to be aggressive on our team,” Rivers said. “Any new guy who’s come to our team, even veterans, have had that problem. I don’t think it’s a coincidence when a lot of the [veterans] went off the floor Kris Joseph got aggressive. That was good, though.”
Rivers on evaluating Celtic newcomers: “If you can play well in our practices, with the officiating that’s going on, you can probably play well in a game. They have a tough go — when Rondo and those guys want to pump up the pressure. You’ll go ‘guys if we go well the next 30 minutes,’ the veterans take that as let’s dominate the young guys. So, they see a lot and they get a lot out of it.”
Former Celtic Rasheed Wallace has yet to play with the Knicks and was not with the team Saturday.
“I’ve always thought highly of Rasheed as a player,” Knicks coach Mike Woodson said. “He’s been out two years, that’s why he spent the last month with us, basically auditioning, to see if he can still play. We’ll know something soon — go back and evaluate him Tuesday, see if he’s ready to get on the floor and if he is get him on the floor next week and see where he is.”
Asked if he had been viewing games of the New Orleans Hornets, where his son, Austin, is playing guard, Rivers replied: “I keep up with a Hornet. I watched one game. It’s harder now, with Duke it’s easy, that was only 30 games. I hate to say it, the last thing you want to do after watching a game is watch another NBA game. So, I’m hoping their schedule jibes with ours and they’re playing somebody we’re about to play — it’s a double, it’s scouting and watching your son.”
Celtics shot 54.8 percent from the field against the Knicks, two nights after a 56.5 percent performance in a 115-85 win over the Brooklyn Nets.
Rivers said the Celtics made a defensive breakthrough against the Nets.
“That’s the very first time we’ve done it this year, so far,” Rivers said. “We’ve had stretches where we’ve played good defense. But we locked in, took away a lot of stuff that we hadn’t been doing. Our pick and roll defense against Deron Williams, arguably one of the best pick and roll players in the league, was sensational. I think Brooklyn played — they run a lot iso stuff, they have a lot of individually great iso players, Joe Johnson being one – we guarded that well. Deflections, steals — if we can play defense like that every night I’d be a happy man. And we can.”
Frank Dell'Apa can be reached at email@example.com.