WALTHAM — When most of his teammates slipped into the freezing night after the Celtics disheartening loss to the New York Knicks on Friday, Jared Sullinger drove himself to the team’s practice facility and participated in his own version of “Midnight Madness.”
It’s been hard for Sullinger to do anything but practice shooting given his four-game slump. He has missed 22 of his past 29 shots and went scoreless against the Knicks.
Although he is averaging a career-best 14.1 points this season, he has averaged 5 points in those four games.
“I’ve been [going to the gym after games] since high school,” the power forward said. “I have a bad game and I used to ask my dad, ‘Can we go to the gym?’ And I just get some shots and get back to what works for me.
“You almost kind of replay the game in your head and think of all the opportunities you had to score and you visualize the game. It’s almost to the point where you’re playing a five-on-five game with yourself.”
Sullinger has been effective from long range, has six double-doubles, and has been a relentless offensive rebounder. But after shooting 46.8 percent in November, that percentage is 39.4 in December — and that includes a 50 percent clip from the 3-point line. Sullinger’s challenge has been making close-range shots.
He said the best way he can resurrect his offensive touch is through those private sessions. He won’t take outside advice.
“I cut my phone off; I don’t like talking,” he said. “For the past four, five days, my phone’s been completely off, like power button, don’t check it, don’t do anything. It’s just who I’ve been. My brothers are telling me this is unlike you, you must be playing bad and truth be told, I am.”
The Celtics were not the most desperate team in their previous two games with the Hornets and Knicks. The Hornets entered Wednesday’s game having just broken a 10-game losing streak and won, 96-87. The Knicks were losers of 10 straight before leading nearly wire to wire for a 101-95 win.
Rajon Rondo said the Celtics played as if “we had won 10 games in a row,” a disturbing statement considering the Celtics are seven games below .500.
“I think, to their credit, most of [the players play with desperation] most of the time,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “I don’t think there’s any question about that.
“As you go through and evaluate our first month of the season where we lost a lot of games, I think that very rarely felt like the case. Certainly when you’re playing games where they don’t go your way, like the last two, that’s one of the things that you don’t want to have happen.
“I think that I have to do a better job in recognizing not only what I can do to help them, but also recognizing who’s got [that desperation]. I’ve got to recognize that and make the appropriate changes.”
Stevens said he is not concerned about offending players or bruising egos with playing decisions. “Nah, I think you can throw that out the window,” he said. “We’re 7-14. We should have one ego and that’s for our team to do well.”
Leading scorer Jeff Green, who has been visibly disappointed after several losses this season, said the team cannot dwell on errors or losses.
“It’s real tough because we’re losing and we want to win every game that we play,” he said. “For guys who have been in this league, we know there’s a game the next day. I think we know how to move forward, but I think we just have to teach the young guys how to do it. We know that we’re on the border line [of success]. It’s not like we’re losing every game by 20. We’re in games. but we just have to figure out a way to get over the hump.”
Setback for Smart
Marcus Smart (strained left Achilles’ tendon) did not make the trip to Philadelphia with the team, but could be available for Wednesday’s home game against the Magic. The injury is not considered serious, but it’s another setback for the rookie, who missed 10 games with a badly sprained left ankle. The Achilles’ strain occurred on the same foot.
“As a guy who’s had a sprained ankle multiple times, you get some soreness in the Achilles’ anyway,” Stevens said. “So is there any connection? Not that I know of, but it wouldn’t surprise me if there’s a small relation there.”
It’s been a difficult season for Smart, who played in the team’s first five games before injuring his ankle. He returned from the injury to play 13 uneven minutes over two games before a 23-point outburst Dec. 8 at Washington. He then played 12 scoreless minutes against Charlotte and was injured Friday against the Knicks.
“It’s frustrating and he’s a really important part of our team,” Stevens said. “He’s an important part of our future, so we’re all anxious for him and he’s certainly frustrated by just getting back and not being able to play again.”
Meanwhile, the Celtics will be even shorter at small forward/shooting guard because Marcus Thornton suffered a strained left calf in practice and did not make the trip to Philadelphia.
The absences of Smart and Thornton likely would have meant playing time for rookie James Young, but he is out three weeks with a subluxation of his right (non-shooting shoulder).