Jared Sullinger knew he couldn’t have asked for anything more, not with the uphill battle facing his team.
The Celtics, trailed, 109-107, with 1.5 seconds left in regulation. Their inbounds pass was coming from the opposite baseline, enhancing the degree of difficulty.
Gerald Wallace heaved the ball the length of the court, his Hail Mary besting the defense as it fell to Sullinger near the left block. Sullinger quickly fired a 13-foot shot over the outstretched arm of 6-foot-11-inch Mason Plumlee.
The shot beat the clock, but the ball would carom off the rim, Sullinger slapping the parquet floor in frustration as the buzzer went off.
“That’s the best shot you can get — 1.5 seconds on the clock and that close to the rim,” Sullinger said. “Gerald threw a hell of a pass. I’ve just got to make it.”
Sullinger finished with 19 points on 8-of-16 shooting, the team’s second-leading scorer. He added eight rebounds and a pair of 3-pointers in 32 minutes, and his clutch shooting buoyed the Celtics late.
Just days ago against Orlando, Sullinger offered no late-game heroics. He had been benched for the second half by coach Brad Stevens after missing all five attempts from the field in a 100-95 loss at Orlando.
But Friday afternoon, Sullinger looked more like the scorer that has helped Boston develop into one of the league’s highest-scoring teams. His 19 points were his most since 22 in Atlanta on Dec. 2.
“He made a coach’s decision,” Sullinger said of Tuesday’s benching. “I respect it. I kept cheering. I kept talking to my team.
“[Stevens and I] met before practice and he just told me he believes in me. At the same time, he just had to go with what’s best for the team. He commended me on just being a great teammate — just being there for my team and understanding that tonight wasn’t my night, it was somebody else’s.”
On Friday, Sullinger found his stroke early, converting three of his first four shots from the field. His 3-pointer gave the Celtics a 16-15 lead midway through the first.
The teams went blow for blow, heading into halftime level at 56. The Celtics found some breathing room on a third-quarter run started by a Sullinger 3-point play.
Brooklyn came back to tie the game at 99, but Sullinger’s jumper broke it with 2:37 left. When Brooklyn’s Joe Johnson responded with a layup that again evened the score, Sullinger answered with a 3-pointer.
Alan Anderson hit a 3 on Brooklyn’s next possession, and Jarrett Jack (27 points) ultimately put the Nets ahead for good.
The Celtics, playing in Washington Saturday night, have little time to linger on what could have been.
“It definitely hurt,” Sullinger said. “But at the same time — that’s the beauty of the NBA — you’ve got one tomorrow, and we’ve got to play one of the best teams in the NBA in the Washington Wizards. We’ve got to be ready to play.”