WALTHAM — Jared Sullinger didn’t think it would be this way less than a year after back surgery.
“Honestly, I’m shocked the way I’m playing now,” the Celtics forward said after practice Thursday.
Shocked in a good way, he means. His back had been giving him trouble since his freshman year at Ohio State, and doctors had said that the surgery, performed in February, would make the second-year Celtics big man better than ever.
Sure enough, the 6-foot-9-inch Sullinger said he feels better, and referenced his play in the Celtics’ Monday win against the Magic — he scored 14 off the bench — as evidence.
“Some of the spin moves I did on Monday night – if this is last year, I wouldn’t come close to successfully pulling that move off,” he said.
Sulliger added that his back issues, which many have said is why he fell to the 21st pick in the first round of the 2012 draft, affected him in several ways, including how he walked.
That is no longer the case, he said.
“There’s a lot of things that back surgery really helped me out with,” he said.
He’s still far removed from where he needs to be, conditioning-wise. And he’s recovering from a bone bruise in his right knee suffered against the Magic, an injury that sidelined him in the Celtics’ 89-83 loss to Charlotte Wednesday.
Sullinger, who’s averaging 11.3 points and 5.1 rebounds this season, said he’ll return Friday, when the 4-5 Celtics close out a three-game homestand against the Trail Blazers.
Sullinger said he doesn’t expect the knee bruise, which had affected his ability to jump and land, to be an issue and that he sat out against the Bobcats as a precautionary measure.
“As long as I stick with the right treatment and continue to push and get better, I think I’ll be all right,” Sullinger said.
Yet Sullinger could tell the Celtics missed him against Charlotte.
“We were missing a little bit of energy,” he said. “They really outplayed us — with energy. They played really hard [Wednesday]. I just felt like I could’ve matched their toughness, matched their energy and hopefully pick the team up.”
The Celtics have been without him for two games — their season opener vs. Toronto because he was suspended, and then against the Bobcats. The Celtics lost both games.
“The two games we didn’t have him, we missed him,” coach Brad Stevens said. “You go back and look at the film and clearly we just didn’t have as much of a post presence with him out as we do with him in.”
Easy does it
After being outhustled against Charlotte, the Celtics did not have a lengthy practice as punishment.
Instead, the team had a rather light session, largely because Stevens believes in short, efficient practices, but also because they’re in the midst of a grueling month in which they’re playing 18 games in 30 days, including six back-to-back sets.
“I’m not very smart, but I’m smart enough to know that you can’t run them into the ground today,” Stevens said.
Added Sullinger, “Some of the guys wanted to be intense, but it’s less intense because we’ve got to think about the longevity of, not only our careers, but this season.”
On film, Stevens said, “We showed some things that were less than appealing,” a reference to how the Bobcats beat the Celtics to several loose balls or outhustled them on the offensive glass.
Avery Bradley, who had a key late turnover and just wasn’t himself against Charlotte, took blame for his play.
“Some games you might not come out there and play as hard,” he said. “I feel that’s mental. I don’t feel like I gave my all [Wednesday] and I’m going to make up for it [Friday].”
Bradley added, “I feel like every team has their times they don’t play hard, because of stuff like that — having winning streaks and then, you know, starting to feel comfortable and feel like every team’s going to lay down to you just because you’ve been winning. It’s not going to happen like that.”
Above all, Stevens has preached consistency, saying “it’s the most important thing.”
“It’s hard for anybody to be really good at their job every day,” he said. “We all get out of bed on different days and say, ‘Man, I can’t wait until tomorrow.’ You can’t do that. You have to get better every day. You have to strive to do that. That’s a hard thing to be. And it’s hard to be consistent. We used to have a saying, ‘Consistency is a mark of a champion.’ I believe that.”