Sullinger thrives for Celtics as pestering rookie

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Sullinger thrives for Celtics as pestering rookie

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."

More bad blood ahead for Celtics vs Wizards series?

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More bad blood ahead for Celtics vs Wizards series?

On this episode of "The Best of Boston Sports Tonight Podcast", Tom Curran, Michael Holley, Kayce Smith and Tom Giles break down the Celtics closing out the Bulls and preview the next round against Washington with Chris Mannix, Kyle Draper and A. Sherrod Blakely. Also, Mike Giardi and Phil Perry break down the Patriots two picks on Friday.

  • 0:41 - Tom Curran, Michael Holley, Tom Giles, and Kayce Smith discuss the Celtics defeating the Bulls 105-83, beating Chicago in 6 games to advance in the 2nd round of the playoffs.
  • 6:14 - Kyle Draper and Chris Mannix preview the upcoming series against the Washington Wizards and the bad blood between the two teams.
  • 10:19 - Mike Giardi and Phil Perry break down the Patriots first drafts picks, selecting DE Derek Rivers from Youngstown and OT Antonio Garcia from Troy in the 3rd round.
  • 15:45 - Hear what Jae Crowder and Avery Bradley had to say after the win. Also, A. Sherrod Blakely joins BST to discuss the feeling in the Celtics locker room after the win.

Patriots third-rounder Rivers takes winding road to Foxboro

Patriots third-rounder Rivers takes winding road to Foxboro

FOXBORO -- There was not much room for debate as far as this was concerned: Derek Rivers was among the most physically-impressive defensive ends in a draft class loaded at that position.

That begs the question, then, how did the Patriots have the opportunity to draft Rivers at No. 83 overall in the third round? 

The short answer is that he went to Youngstown State, an FCS school, and those players usually don't come off the board early.

But that answer only leads to more questions, as in, how did someone with the athleticism Rivers possesses end up at Youngstown in the first place? And why did he stay?

At 6-foot-4, 248 pounds Rivers was among the top defensive line performers at this year's combine. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.61 seconds, which was good for fourth at his position group. His 30 bench reps of 225 pounds were also fourth among defensive linemen, and tied him with Solomon Thomas (the No. 3 overall pick who weighed 273 pounds in Indy).

Rivers also checked in with the ninth-best broad jump for defensive linemen (123 inches), the fifth-best vertical (35 inches), and the third-best three-cone drill (6.94 seconds).

Those kinds of athletes don't typically end up at Youngstown State. They usually end up a couple hundred miles down the road in Columbus.

"Out of high school, I was a non-qualifier, so I didn’t get my SATs, and then I was just a late bloomer," said Rivers, who was 182 pounds near the end of his sophomore year in high school, according to Vindy.com. "I wasn’t very heavily recruited so I went to Fork Union [Military Academy] and then Youngstown came and they offered me. I was just ready to play ball."

Rivers may have been able to head to a bigger program after emerging for Youngstown as a sophomore with 14 sacks (fifth in FCS that year) and 17 tackles for a loss. But he stayed, and he continued to dominate. As a junior he had eight sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss. As a senior he had 14 sacks and a whopping 19.5 tackles for loss.

Feeling devoted to the program that gave him a chance, Rivers remained and had the opportunity to work under coach Bo Pelini for each of the last two seasons. 

Pelini, a former Nebraska head coach and former Patriots linebackers coach under Pete Carroll (1997-99), may have in a roundabout way helped Rivers land in New England. Pelini and Bill Belichick seem to have a good relationship -- Belichick is now coaching two of Pelini's former players in Vincent Valentine and Rex Burkhead -- and Belichick referenced the coaching Rivers received under Pelini as one of the reasons why Rivers is ready for the NFL. 

When asked about Pelini during his conference call with Patriots reporters, Rivers seemed to agree. 

"Bo was awesome, man. He was like another father to me as far as when he came to Youngstown," Rivers said. "I mean, he took our team to another level. Just the little things that he focused on as far as accountability, doing all the little things right. I mean, those were the things that Bo emphasized, and those were the things that Bo instilled in me."

Rivers added: "The first thing that Coach Bo said in his first meeting with us when he got to Youngstown was that he was like, ‘What you do off the field is going to reflect on how you play on the field.’

"I was a non-qualifier in high school. At Youngstown, I’m probably going to graduate with a 3.0, and it makes sense. If you’re lazy off the field, you’re going to be lazy on the field. If you miss assignments in class, you may miss assignments on the field, so they translate."

Even though even though he's not coming from Alabama or Florida State, even though he took a bit of a circuitous route to get there, in his first night with the team Rivers sure sounded like someone who's been on the fast track to Foxboro for years.