Melo still faces challenges on road to NBA

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Melo still faces challenges on road to NBA

BOSTON The Fab Melo era in Boston has begun.

Hold your applause, please.

The 7-foot rookie from Syracuse University made his NBA debut on Friday as the Boston Celtics had little trouble in defeating Orlando, 97-84.

He played the final 2:38 of the game, picking up his first career steal during that time.

Melo didn't exactly wow anyone with his first NBA action on Friday, but that's OK.

He's not expected to; not now at least.

Even with the Celtics' frontcourt depth taking another blow following Jared Sullinger (lumbar disc) having season-ending back surgery on Friday, that doesn't mean fans will start to see more Melo.

"People love the young guy; love to see the young guy," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said prior to Friday's game.

That is, until they see the young guy play and he makes young guy mistakes.

"You try to give him as much as he can handle," Rivers said of Melo. "And you do try to put him in situations on the floor with Kevin (Garnett) to help him."

One of the biggest challenges for Melo from the very beginning has been learning how to effectively play man-to-man defense as opposed to playing almost exclusively in a zone which has been a staple of the Syracuse University defense under Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim.

"The (defensive) rotations; I didn't know how to defend screens, things like that; this just new for me," Melo said. "I learn this year. At Syracuse, I stay in the middle of the zone the whole time. It's a lot different from playing man-to-man."

Because Boston (23-23) is in a fight to just make the playoffs, it's unlikely that they will look to Melo much, if at all, in the next few games before they send him back to the Maine Red Claws, Boston's D-League affiliate.

"I don't see Fab getting a lot of opportunities right now," said Danny Ainge, Boston's president of basketball operations. "So we'll have to keep tabs on that because we want him to continue his development."

That's why the bulk of his pro career thus far has been spent with the Red Claws.

For the Red Claws, Melo has appeared in 19 games (17 starts) while averaging 11.3 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3.6 blocked shots per game.

Not surprisingly, Melo was happy to finally get on the floor in a real NBA game.

There was the usual nerves that most rookies feel in their first NBA action.

When you throw in the fact that Melo sat the first 45 minutes, it stands to reason that his performance would have left a lot to be desired.

But in grading his performance, it won't ever be about things such as points, but instead progress towards learning the NBA game to where someday he can be a guy Rivers calls on and feels confident that he can go in the game and get the job done.

"It's not a situation I want to come with Jared hurt," Melo said. "But I just have to take this opportunity.

Melo added, "I just want to go play and show some things I can do."

Lowry, Sullinger and Blount interrupt interview with DeRozan

Lowry, Sullinger and Blount interrupt interview with DeRozan

DeMar DeRozan didn't get a chance to answer one question in his postgame interview before being interrupted by Kyle Lowry, Jared Sullinger, and LeGarrette Blount.

Sullinger on Celtics: 'I watch from a distance, I support from a distance'

Sullinger on Celtics: 'I watch from a distance, I support from a distance'

BOSTON – The trip to the TD Garden is one that Jared Sullinger has made many times but never like this. 

The former Celtic was back in town with his new team, the Toronto Raptors who signed him to a one-year, $5.6 million deal after the Celtics rescinded their qualifying offer to him and thus made him an unrestricted free agent. 

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“I had a feeling it was going to go that way once they signed big Al (Horford), that they were going to let me go,” Sullinger said prior to Friday’s game.  “We were prepared for it. It is what it is. I’m happy these guys are doing well.”

And he hopes to say the same for himself sometime in the future after undergoing surgery to have a screw inserted in the fifth metatarsal of his left foot – the same foot he had season-ending surgery on during the 2014-2015 season with the Celtics. 

There’s no specific timetable as to when he’ll be back on the floor, and Sullinger is cool with that plan. 

“I don’t know. They’re hiding the protocol from me so I won’t rush; we’ll see,” said Sullinger who is still in a walking boot. 

The 6-foot-9 forward played well in the preseason and solidified himself as the team’s starting power forward. 

Now that he’s out with another injury, he’ll have to once again try and prove himself either later this season when he returns, or this summer when he becomes a free agent again.

For now, Sullinger is happy to be back in town, seeing lots of familiar faces, friends and ex-teammates that he says he still keeps in close contact with. 

“Some of these guys I considered like brothers to me,” Sullinger said. “IT (Isaiah Thomas), Jae Crowder to name a few. So I watch from a distance, I support from a distance. They’re playing well.”

In addition to his former teammates, the lines of communication remained open between him and Celtics head coach Brad Stevens as well. 

Stevens said the two exchanged text messages right before he had foot surgery, and afterwards. 

“Obviously, everyone here wishes a speedy recovery and hopefully he gets back on the court soon,” Stevens said. 

Sullinger has been an effective player during his time in the NBA, with career averages of 11.1 points and 7.7 rebounds per game. 

But this will be the third time in his five NBA seasons that he will miss a significant amount of time on the court due to an injury or recovering from an injury. 

Stevens acknowledged that he feels for Sullinger who once again has to go through rehabilitation in order to get back on the floor.

“I like Jared a lot,” Stevens said. “He’s a heck of a player, he’s a really smart guy. Got a lot of respect for him and it stinks that he’s got to go through that but he’ll come back strong I’m sure.”