WALTHAM Jared Sullinger is well liked by his Boston Celtics teammates.
Opponents? That's another story.
The 6-foot-9 rookie has indeed shown a knack for being a nuisance to opposing players which is a factor that has helped both Sullinger and the Celtics run off a season-high-tying three consecutive wins.
In fact, one of the biggest plays made in Boston's 102-96 win at New York on Monday was Sullinger's ability to bother Tyson Chandler and ultimately force him to commit an offensive foul in the third quarter.
With the score tied at 66, Sullinger's forced turnover got the ball back in the hands of the Celtics who in turn took a one-point lead after a Jeff Green free throw.
Boston would never trail for the rest of the game.
Following the play, you could see Chandler pleading his case to the officials who were in no mood to have their opinions swayed. It was clear that Chandler was upset and bothered if not the end result of the play, but also that it was a rookie doing it.
"My role is to be that nagging rookie that nobody likes," Sullinger said. "So when I check in they go, 'Ahh, this rookie!' That's my whole goal this year. Rebound, finish around the rim, knock down open shots and be a nagging rookie. That's my goal."
The 20-year-old has been all that and then some for a Celtics club that has leaned more heavily on him recently.
He's averaging 5.6 points and 5.4 rebounds per game on the season. During the Celtics' current three-game winning streak, he's delivering 8.3 points and 8 rebounds per game.
The increased production is in large part due to more opportunities to play. During the current streak, he has averaged 23.7 minutes played per game which is a noticeable spike from his season average of 18.7 minutes played per game.
Despite being an All-American at Ohio State, Celtics captain Paul Pierce said he didn't know too much about Sullinger until after the Celtics selected him in the first round of last June's NBA draft.
"He was pretty much a name to me," Pierce said. "I hadn't really had a chance to watch too many college games."
But since coming to Boston, you can lump Pierce into the growing crowd of folks who have been impressed with the big man's presence and demeanor both on and off the court.
"He's a hard worker," Pierce said. "The good thing about him, he's a very coachable. He listens. He doesn't strike me as one of these new-age rookies who comes in, reading their own press articles and feeling themselves coming into the league and real arrogant. He accepts coaching; he respects the veterans. And with that type of attitude, he's only going to get better."
Added Celtics head coach Doc Rivers: "He's just a physical, tough kid."
Sullinger's solid, but far from a finished product.
A big part of his improvement will be him continuing to do the dirty work that is required of an effective NBA big man, in addition to finding ways to get underneath the skin of opposing players.
"I'm the guy that's always going for the offensive boards," Sullinger said. "I'm the guy that's putting up a fight. I see it working."
There have been too many games to count where Sullinger's play has led to more seasoned players trying to trash talk him, with the goal being to throw off his focus.
Nice try, Sullinger says.
"Everybody thinks just because I'm a rookie they say something, I'm going to back down," Sullinger said. "I grew up around basketball. I played with some of the best. Talking doesn't really affect me."