BOSTON — One of the big talking points for the Celtics heading into this season centered around the development of their younger players, specifically Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk.
Sullinger returned this season after having his rookie season cut short following back surgery. As for Olynyk, he's a 7-footer who has spent the bulk of his basketball-playing life as a guard. As you can imagine, becoming a solid NBA defender has at times been quite challenging for him.
Boston's 102-91 win at Milwaukee showed some of the best of what both have to offer.
Before getting too giddy about beating the Bucks, the Celtics victory has to be put in perspective first. Despite the fact that the C's have lost twice this season to the Bucks, Milwaukee is still the league's worst team record-wise. And when you throw in all the injuries Milwaukee has had this season, it only cements their bottom-of-the-barrel status in the NBA.
That said, Sullinger and Olynyk showed signs of improved play collectively prior to Monday night.
But it was against the Bucks where we saw Sullinger struggle and yet still finish with a double-double of 13 points and 10 rebounds. And Olynyk delivered a steady dose of aggression and shot-making both off the dribble and on pull-up jumpers as he tallied his first career double-double of 14 points and 11 rebounds.
"If they can defend and rebound together at the end of games, it's great to have them in," said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. "They make so many basketball plays and you can run so much through them . . . They can do all kinds of things. I was pleased with the way those young guys played."
Actually, the two have been a pretty good tandem for the Celtics when on the floor together this season. They have appeared together in 36 games having played a total of 292 minutes, or 8.1 minutes per game.
Despite not being on the floor for a ton of minutes together, the two have been fairly effective when in tandem, which is evident by the plus/minus ratio of 7.6 when the two have played together this season.
"Kelly's a good player," Sullinger told CSNNE.com recently. "He can do so many things out there. The big thing for him is to just keep playing his game and keep trying to get better. He's been doing a great job with that all season."
And Olynyk has appreciated having Sullinger around and to a larger extent, growing with him as a Celtic.
"Jared, he's a great teammate, great player, always willing to help," Olynyk said. "We both like to help the team in different ways, whether it's scoring, rebounding, passing the ball . . . Whatever it takes to win that's what I'm trying to do, and I know Jared's the same way."