Sullinger sets Celtics' season high with 16 rebounds

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Sullinger sets Celtics' season high with 16 rebounds

BOSTON -- Last June, Jared Sullinger waited for his name to be called in the 2012 NBA Draft. Twenty players were chosen before the Celtics selected him with the 21st overall pick, a move they were excited to make that late into the first round.
The Celtics praised Sullinger's rebounding early on. While many teams passed on the forward due to concerns of a herniated disc, the Celtics were looking for size and brought him on board.
Seven months later, the rookie set a new team season high with 16 rebounds (including five offensive) against the Phoenix Suns.
"You've got to have a go-get-it attitude when it comes to rebounding," said Sullinger. "And that's what I have."
Sullinger has been a welcomed addition on a team that has struggled on the glass over the years. He is averaging 5.7 rebounds this season, including 10.0 per game during the Celtics four-game winning streak.
"I keep saying, 'Rebounds translate,'" said head coach Doc Rivers. "Most of the great rebounders aren't that tall when you think about it. They're big, they're physical, and they have great instincts. I think that's the number one thing. You have them big, you have them thin. Dennis Rodman was tall and thin -- he got all the rebounds. Just think about the list of great rebounders. They just have a knack for the ball, and they have great hands, every single one of them."
Sullinger's development over the season has given point guard Rajon Rondo a partner in transition. With Sullinger (6-foot-9, 260 pounds) crashing the glass and getting Rondo the outlet pass, the team has more opportunities for fast breaks.
"He gets the ball out quick," said Rondo. "When he gets the rebound, he doesn't hold it, he doesn't worry about a turnover. He just tries to get the outlet to me as quick as possible. To play with a big like that, it's big for our team so we can get to the break and get mismatches in transition."Said Kevin Garnett, "His timing, body positioning, he has the perfect body for rebounding. He can take the pounding and bump a little bit, he has great anticipation when it comes to the ball, and he has great hands. Put all that in the pot, you got Jared Sullinger. That's what makes him great."
The 20-year-old is quickly making an impression around the league. Following the Celtics win over the Suns, Marcin Gortat praised Sullinger after his first game against him.
"He's a talented, young big man, strong, big body," Gortat said. "Quite honestly, we focused on totally different guys. We focused on KG (Kevin Garnett), we focused on Brandon Bass, and we tried to make sure these guys aren't going to get going. That's just how it is. There's a lot of new, young studs coming into the league who are just impressing every night. That's how it was with me. Everybody was focusing back in the day on Dwight and I was doing the homework.
"One day it's not going to be easy for him because people will learn he's a good big man who can rebound the ball and who can get you a few buckets."
With others taking notice of his emergence, Sullinger isn't concerned about the teams that passed on him last summer. He is proving his future in the league is one to watch.
"I could care less," he said of his draft pick. "We're winning. We won four in a row, so that's my main focus is winning. Last June was behind me."

Patriots defense carried chip on its shoulder all the way to the Super Bowl

Patriots defense carried chip on its shoulder all the way to the Super Bowl

FOXBORO -- It's a list that's been cited time and again as the Patriots defense rolled into the AFC title game: Brock Osweiler, Matt Moore, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Bryce Petty, Trevor Siemien, Joe Flacco, Jared Goff, Colin Kaepernick. 

Those are the quarterbacks the Patriots have faced since their last loss, a Week 10 defeat at the hands of Russell Wilson and the Seahawks. None of them ranked in the top 16 in quarterback rating during the regular season. None of them ranked in the top 19 in yards per attempt. 

PATRIOTS 36, STEELERS 17

The Patriots defense finished the season ranked No. 1 in points allowed, and since their last loss, they'd allowed just 12.9 points per game. Still, there were those who wondered if it was a unit that would hold up against Ben Roethlisberger, Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown on Sunday night. 

Not only did Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia's defense hold up. It dominated. 

"They held this team to nine points for 50 minutes," Belichick said after the game during the presentation of the Lamar Hunt Trophy. "Pretty good."

The 36-17 victory may have been the defense's best effort of the season due to the competition it faced.

For many, it was a performance that will legitimize the season the unit has had. But for Patriots players, it was a performance that showcased their ability, a performance that might shut up those who cited that list of mediocre (and worse) quarterbacks as an indicator of what they hadn't done this season.

"It's not validation," said corner Eric Rowe. "We hear the reports. 'Not a great quarterback. Not a great offense.' Someone said the Chiefs have a better defense than the Patriots so the Steelers should be able to have their way. We took that chip on our shoulder so that all week and we prepared . . . We definitely prepared better than we did last week against the Texans, I know that. We kind of took that chip, and it all just came together tonight."

Even when it wasn't perfect, the Patriots were able to recover quickly. At the end of the first half, they bent but didn't break as they put together a goal-line stand that held the Steelers to a field goal after they had a first-and-goal at the one-yard line. They stood firm again in the fourth quarter by recording a turnover on downs with the Steelers deep in Patriots territory. 

That "bend-but-don't-break" label that the Patriots defense wears is one they actually wear with pride. 

"I kind of like it," safety Duron Harmon said of the description. "It just shows the type of toughness and mental toughness we have. Even when the situation might seem terrible or might seem bad, we have enough mental toughness to come out and make a positive out of it. Right then and there (during the goal-line stand in the second quarter), a lot of people are thinking that's seven points. But that's a four-point turnover basically."

Execution in those critical moments, against an offense that's loaded with Pro Bowl talent, may allow the Patriots to be more widely respected. But they've known what they've had for some time, and so has their quarterback. 

He said after Sunday's AFC Championship Game victory that he's based his readiness on how well he's been able to practice against a unit that he knows is right up there with the best he's seen this season on game days. 

"There's a lot of noise, always," Brady said when asked about the chip on the defense's collective shoulder. "Sometimes you don't always have it figured out four games into the year. There's a lot of moving parts . . . I practice against those guys every day, and it's hard to complete passes.

"I know if I can complete it against our defense, then we should be fine on Sunday because our guys do a great job in the pass game. So many great pressures they got . . . They got a lot of good schemes. They got a good defense. We got a good defense. To slow down an offense like that was pretty great."