LOS ANGELES – Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said that the team appealed to the NBA the first of forward Jared Sullinger’s two Flagrant 1 fouls Tuesday against Denver, and that, after reviewing the call, the NBA decided Wednesday to overturn it.
It’s an important decision from the Celtics’ perspective. Before it came down, Sullinger had five Flagrant 1 fouls this season, one short of a one-game suspension, according to NBA rules.
But now, Sullinger has four Flagrant 1s, meaning he is two short of a suspension. However, if he is whistled for a more serious Flagrant 2 foul, he will be suspended for one game.
Players earn one point for each Flagrant 1 foul, two for each Flagrant 2 fouls. When they reach six points, they earn a one-game suspension. For each point beyond six, they’re suspended for two games.
Sullinger was whistled for the two Flagrant 1 fouls during a 23-second span in the third quarter of the Celtics’ 129-98 loss to the Nuggets.
The first came when after he knocked J.J. Hickson to the floor during a drive to the basket. The next came when Sullinger hit Kenneth Faried with an elbow to the chin when Sullinger tried to clear room while attempting a short jumper.
Sullinger apologized for the second call, saying he didn’t mean to elbow Faried in the chin.
“That was a total mistake on my part and a miscalculation on my part,” Sullinger said before the Celtics faced the Clippers Wednesday night at Staples Center.
Sullinger said he isn’t sure if he can change his game to avoid committing hard fouls -- he described "growing up in an old-school household, watching old-school basketball" -- and he said he isn’t worried about developing an unsavory reputation.
“I’m just out there trying to protect my teammates, make sure we’re in the best possible position to win the basketball game,” he said. “Instead of just giving them 2 points, I decided to take the foul. I’ve just got be more careful. I’ve just got to wrap them up, maybe. Or be not so aggressive with them, maybe. I don’t know.”
He admitted that frustration – the Celtics had lost five straight entering the game and lost by a season-high 31 points to Denver – played a role in his play against the Nuggets.
“When you lose by so much, that’s one of the reasons,” he said. “And also when you go on a losing streak, you kind of get frustrated with yourself, because you try to play as hard as you can to put your team in position to win and it just seems like the ball is not rolling in our favor. You get real frustrated, but my problem was I wore my emotions on my sleeve instead of keeping it internal.”
Coach Brad Stevens said he addressed the issue with Sullinger, but that they’ve moved on. Stevens also said he isn’t concerned that Sullinger would change his style of play, thus affecting his overall game.
“That stuff all gets blown out of proportion,” Stevens said. “He’s a good basketball player. He’s made some mistakes in some of those circumstances. But that won’t change how effective he is on one end of the floor.”
Said Stevens, "He’s a young guy. He can change his reputation in a positive manner with continued play."
Ainge said he wasn’t worried about Sullinger.
“I’d much rather have a guy be overly aggressive and try to calm him down as he gets more mature and figures it all out than to have a guy that you never have to worry about being overly aggressive,” Ainge said.
“It’s something that we will address with Jared because flagrant fouls – not only do they lead to suspensions, but they’re also very penalizing during the course of a game.
"But at the same time, for the long-term benefits of Jared, I’m not worried about the reputation ... He just needs to learn to wrap guys up better and not swing the arm. I think he’ll learn.”
Celtics forward Gerald Wallace was in support of Sullinger after Tuesday’s game.
“I’m just happy to at least see someone from our bigs give a hard foul,” Wallace said. “He’s the only big willing to give a hard foul to not give up a layup. I’ll take that all day. We shouldn’t allow the other team’s guards to lay it up and dunk on us. I applaud him for that.”
When asked about Wallace’s comments, Sullinger smiled.
“You’ve got to understand – Gerald is old school,” Sullinger said. “Before the game (Tuesday), we were talking about high school basketball. Gerald said he won the national player of the year in high school in 2000. And I started laughing.
“I said, ‘I won it 10 years later after you.’ And he just got up and walked out the room. Growing up and just watching good, hard playoff basketball in the NBA and watching how things are changing, I have to change.”
Wallace said Tuesday that he didn’t think Sullinger would tone down his physical play because of the number of flagrant fouls he has received.
“I don’t think so, you know what I’m saying?” Wallace said. “If you’re going to build a reputation for being a hard-nosed player, you have to keep it going. It’s not like he’s going out there trying to hurt people or intentionally knock people out. He’s playing hard in the paint. A lot of bigs do that. Hopefully, it turns around for us.”