Garnett finds attentive pupil in Sullinger

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Garnett finds attentive pupil in Sullinger

BOSTON Kevin Garnett reached out and patted Jared Sullinger on the head. Amid thousands of people at the TD Garden for the Boston Celtics preseason home opener, the interaction -- as brief as it was -- between the two stood out.

A rookies relationship with Garnett can set the tone for his career. Those who choose not to listen dont usually last long. The veteran leader commands respect, and if first-year players listen, ask questions, and express a genuine desire to learn, he is more than willing to open his anthology of basketball knowledge and share.

Less than a month into training camp, the youngest player on the Celtics has made a positive impression on the teams elder statesman.

I feel like sometimes young guys come in and have the whole entitlement displayed across their chest, said Garnett. This kid is coming in, working his butt off, and he's trying to be better. I'm giving him the book, teaching him everything I know.

Sullinger could have come to Boston with an ego. At only 20 years old, the former Ohio State University standout had garnered lottery buzz before slipping to the 21st pick in this years draft due to concerns by many teams over a back issue. The Celtics were thrilled to land Sullinger, who averaged 17.5 points and 9.2 rebounds in his sophomore (and final) college season. Sullinger was excited to go to a veteran team.

The youngest of three talented brothers, he has spent his entire life going up against older, bigger, stronger competition. He thrived on the intensity of the hoops battles and eventually became the victor. Coming into his first season in the NBA, Sullinger knew learning from and respecting Garnett was imperative, but he also didnt want to back down. Being aggressive got him to the pros and he wasnt about to change his approach now that he had made it there.

I understood that I cant be afraid because hes Kevin Garnett, Sullinger told CSNNE.com. Hes my teammate and Ive got to attack him every day in practice. Thats what I did and earned his respect like that . . . It was day one since practice. If I got the ball, Id attack it. Most people would say, Oh my god, Kevin Garnetts guarding me. Get it out of my hands. No, not me. I just always try to attack and play my game.

Behind this attack-mode attitude on the court is a young player who simply wants to learn from the veterans around him. Sullinger's teammates describe him as humble. Garnett even called him gullible -- "And I mean that in a good way," he clarified. There is a difference between ego and eagerness, and Sullinger possesses the latter.

It wasn't far into training camp before Garnett and Sullinger began talking more frequently.

When Sullinger missteps in practice, Garnett pulls him aside to go over the play. The rookie pays close attention and retains every ounce of advice, which has included developing a consistent pregame routine.

If there is an empty seat next to Garnett on the Celtics bench, Sullinger grabs it. He carefully listens to Garnett's analysis of the game being played in front of them, discovering how to watch the action from the future Hall of Famer's point of view.

"Hes not really worried about offense," Sullinger explained. "Hes all about defense."

And when they are both done playing for the night, Garnett and Sullinger sport similar sideline attire -- a towel wrapped around their heads tucked into their warm up shirts.

"I always did that," Sullinger said. "I was doing that at Ohio State. The only thing different is I didnt have a shirt, so I tucked it into my jersey."

Sullinger has started in three of the Celtics first five preseason games, averaging 10.8 points and 7.2 rebounds in 24.6 minutes. He has received more praise than rookies in past years, yet he's not letting it go to his head.

With a shortage of seats on the bench during Tuesday's game, Sullinger directed Micah Downs and Kris Joseph to the chairs, volunteering to take a spot on the floor during the second quarter. If Sullinger, who started that night, were to pull rank, he could have claimed a chair ahead of 51st overall pick Joseph and the undrafted Downs. But he didn't.

Sullinger said his former nickname, "Smokey the Swag Bear," was given to him by summer league teammate Craig Brackins, went overseas with its creator. Now he goes by "Youngin" or -- an upgrade from Garnett's usual rookie nickname -- "Sully."

Besides, it is nearly impossible for him to forget his place among the veterans.

"Hell yeah I feel 20," he said with a laugh. "The stories you hear - KG goes to talk about Terry Porter and all those guys and its like, 'Whoa. I was like eight or nine when that happened.' When he (Garnett) came into the league, I was four in 1996. So yeah, I feel young."

With every passing game and practice with his older teammates, Sullinger will continue to become wiser beyond his years. Garnett sees Sullinger's potential, and the rookie sees it in himself, too.

"I always say, young guys come off sometimes as entitled," Garnett said, continuing, "But he works very hard. He's very attentive, he wants to be better."

Blakely: Blown call didn't cost Celtics the game Saturday vs. Blazers

Blakely: Blown call didn't cost Celtics the game Saturday vs. Blazers

WALTHAM -- You won’t find the Boston Celtics blaming anyone but themselves for Saturday’s 127-123 overtime loss to Portland. 
 
But they certainly didn’t get any breaks down the stretch from the referees, who made a huge officiating mistake in the final seconds of regulation. 

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Following a Celtics miss in the game’s closing seconds, Blazers guard Damian Lillard wound up with the ball but was stripped almost immediately by Marcus Smart, who put the steal back in for a lay-up that would have given Boston a one-point lead with 10.8 seconds to play. 
 
The ruling on the floor at the time was a foul against Smart. But officials later determined as part of their report on the final two minutes of the game, that the foul against Smart was an incorrect call.
 
“It just pisses you off, doesn’t it?” Crowder said. “It just pisses you off. I don’t like it.”
 
Crowder, like a number of players I have spoken to about this particular subject, is not a fan of the league releasing the information. 
 
And his reasoning, like his NBA brethren, is simple. 
 
There’s no recourse relative to that particular game if the officials in fact got a call wrong. 
 
So for their purposes, the transparency that the league is seeking, while just, doesn’t do them a damn bit of good when it comes to what matters most to them. Which is wins and losses. 
 
“It’s over now. It’s too late to confirm it now,” said Smart who told media following the loss that the steal was clean. “The game is over with. It is what it is; on to the next game now.”
 
Smart added that having the league confirm the call was wrong is frustrating. 
 
“They come back and tell you they miss the call, but it’s over now,” Smart said. “We’re on to the next game. It’s like they shouldn’t even said it. But I understand it; they’re trying to take responsibility and show they made a bad call. We appreciate it but at that time as a player it’s frustrating. That possibly could have won us the game.”
 
But as Smart, coach Brad Stevens and other players asked about it mentioned, Boston made so many mistakes against the Blazers and played so uncharacteristically for long stretches that it would be unfair and just not right to pin the game’s outcome on one bad call late in the game. 
 
“It happens,” said Stevens who added that he’s never read a two-minute report other than what he has seen published by the media. “There were plenty of things we could have done better.”
 
He’s right.
 
That blown call didn’t cost the Boston Celtics the game. 
 
Their play did. 
 
The Celtics turned the ball over 21 times that led to 34 points, both season highs. 
 
They couldn’t contain C.J. McCollum and Damian Lillard, two of the league’s most explosive guards who combined for 63 points on 20-for-42 shooting.
 
Boston allowed Myers Leonard to score a season-high 17 points. 
 
Certainly the bad call against Smart was a factor. 
 
But it would not have been an issue if the Celtics had done a better job of controlling the things they could have controlled, like defending shooters better, making smarter decisions when it came to passing the ball and maybe most significant, play with a higher, more consistent level of aggression around the rim. 

Bradley, Green and Jackson to miss Celtics' game Tuesday against Wizards

Bradley, Green and Jackson to miss Celtics' game Tuesday against Wizards

WALTHAM -- The team flight to Washington for tomorrow night's game against the Wizards will be a little lighter than the Celtics would like. 
 
Boston continues to be cautious with Avery Bradley and his right Achilles strain injury. Coach Brad Stevens confirmed that the 6-foot-2 guard won't travel and will sit out for the seventh time in the last eight games. 

Stevens added he didn't anticipate Bradley returning to the court anytime this week, which means he's likely not to return until next week's game against Detroit on Jan. 30. 
 
Bradley won’t be the only Celtic not making the trip for health-related reasons. Gerald Green and Demetrius Jackson are both not traveling due to sickness. 
 
However, the Celtics did get a bit of good news on the health front. Jonas Jerebko and Tyler Zeller, both having missed games with sickness, will take the trip to D.C. with the rest of their teammates.