Coach Brad Stevens recently challenged Jared Sullinger. Stevens noted that Sullinger was playing through injuries, such as a bone bruise in his left hand and a dislocated right index finger. And Stevens said he respected him for that.
But Stevens then pointed out that the Celtics need more from Sullinger, namely they need him not to accept the fact that he’s still a young player.
“We are in a unique situation in that we’re asking some of our young guys to be almost leaders, and almost more vocal in their approach,” Stevens said last week.
“My talking point with him was, ‘I know you’re , but you’re a mature basketball player, you know the game, and, for our team to grow, we need for you to maybe play and be a few years ahead of where you are.’
“And it’s not fair to him, but it’s a great opportunity for him, so that was my challenge to him.”
After Sullinger posted game highs of 21 points and 12 rebounds in the Celtics’ 96-89 win over the Orlando Magic Sunday at TD Garden, the 21-year-old who’s being asked not to be a 21-year-old said, simply, “I just stepped up to the challenge.”
Sullinger played 38 minutes 30 seconds, a game high, and he made 10 of 15 shots. He also recorded his second straight double-double and ninth in his last 18 games.
Sullinger’s father and high school coach, Satch Sullinger, sat courtside Sunday and attended practice Saturday. Jared Sullinger said the two had a chat over the weekend.
“[He was] pretty much just telling me, he said my body language [stunk] and my attitude [stunk],” Sullinger said. “And he said, that’s not what got you here, and he pretty much tried to whoop me back to shape, as my other two fathers did, Julian as in my brother, and [J.J] as in my brother, as well. I was fortunate to have three fathers in my life, technically, according to them.”
Guard Avery Bradley had plenty of praise for Sullinger.
“To me, he’s the best offensive rebounder in the NBA,” Bradley said. “He just plays hard on both ends of the floor. We have a lot of players on our team that are just continuing to get better because they put in the work, and it shows in the game. Jared is in the gym every single day working on his game.”
After missing five games because of a sprained right ankle, Bradley returned to the starting lineup and had 17 points on 6-of-12 shooting.
Bradley noted that his ankle wasn’t yet 100 percent, but he was excited that the entire team was available as they prepare to enter the unofficial second half of the season after the All-Star break.
“But after the break, we usually play well, because of having a leader like [Rajon] Rondo,” Bradley said. “He lets us know that anything is possible. If we come out strong, we can have a chance to break off a run and win eight games straight if we play harder than everybody else.
“[Today], we had some letdowns. If you want to be a good team, we have to play hard the entire game. We’re learning and creating our identity and we’re trying to become a Boston sports team and that’s by playing hard the entire game. That’s what we want to do. That’s our focus. That’s how I play. And I know that’s how Rondo plays. We just need to get everybody to play like that.”
After shooting less than 40 percent in three straight games, something the Celtics hadn’t done since Feb. 20-26, 2003, they bounced back by shooting 50 percent Sunday.
“We’ve really struggled to shoot it recently,” Stevens said, “but I think part of that is [Jerryd] Bayless getting back and healthy, getting going, Avery getting going, now you have more threats on the court to open up the floor for others. Then obviously Rondo making shots behind the screens.”
Bayless scored 6 points off the bench Sunday, but it was clear he’s still finding his role now that Bradley is back and Rondo is in the lineup.
“Bayless can be even more aggressive for us,” Stevens said. “I thought he did a really good job of trying to be a point at times and running the team, but that doesn’t mean that he should pass up good looks. He’s balancing that a little bit, but with him and Avery both being able to come off those screens, come off those pick-and-rolls and shoot, those are good things for us.”
Stevens also praised Brandon Bass, who scored 19 points and grabbed nine rebounds.
“Brandon was huge,” Stevens said. “I actually said that to [assistant coach] Jay Larranaga in about the first or second minute of the game, you could see he was locked in from the get-go. That’s what you need those guys to be for us to be successful.”
Vitor Faverani didn’t play after rejoining the Celtics after two games for their Development League affiliate, the Maine Red Claws. The rookie center had 16 points, 12 rebounds, and 3 blocks against Delaware Friday, and 20 points, 17 rebounds, and 6 assists against Erie Saturday. In three games with the Red Claws this season, Faverani is averaging 16.3 points and 12.0 rebounds over 31.3 minutes per game . . . Gerald Wallace rejoined the team after a death in his family. He did not play . . . Jeff Green, Sullinger, Bass, Bradley, and Rondo represented the Celtics’ 14th different starting lineup this season . . . Bradley, a Tacoma, Wash., native, said he was pulling for the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl and he wore a team hat after the game.Baxter Holmes can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @BaxterHolmes.