BOSTON — There's no question the presence of Jared Sullinger would have helped Boston in their 89-83 loss to Charlotte on Wednesday night.
Still, coach Brad Stevens and Celtics players were united in their belief that the defeat was about something much deeper than the absence of one key player.
Specifically, they were missing the gritty fight and hustle that permeated throughout their roster, providing a major source of energy that helped fuel their four-game winning streak.
That effort was not present with the kind of consistency the Celtics had shown in previous games.
And the Bobcats made them pay.
"They played harder than us," said the Celtics' Jordan Crawford, who had 16 points, six assists and five rebounds. "They beat us to all the loose balls. That was the difference in the game."
And Sullinger's presence, while certainly would have been helpful, probably would not have been enough for them to extend their winning streak.
"He [Sullinger] brings that rebounding aspect and he can shoot the ball," the Celtics' Phil Pressey told CSNNE.com. "But overall we just didn't play our best tonight. With him or without him, we have to play better."
Stevens, like his players, made it clear that Sullinger's absence was not going to be used as a justification for why his team played so poorly on Wednesday.
"Any time one of your better players is out, that hurts," Stevens said. "But it's not an excuse; you've got 10 guys that played in the game and it's a great opportunity for guys to take advantage of when a teammate needs you to step in and fill the shoes. I've always been big on that next-man-up concept, and certainly can't use it as an excuse if we don't have success when he's out."
The Celtics list Sullinger as day-to-day with one of the more unpredictable injuries in terms of a timetable.
Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry missed one game this season because of a bone bruise in his left ankle, and Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin missed one practice with a bone bruise to his left knee.
The good news for Celtics fans is that bone bruise injuries typically aren't of the season-ending, career-threatening nature, which bodes well for Sullinger to have a speedy return to the court.