NEW YORK — Jared Sullinger vividly recalled the last time he played at the Barclays Center.
“I didn’t do well,” the Boston Celtics rookie forward said. “(Coach) Doc (Rivers) was mad at me and pulled me out of the game early and I didn’t play again.”
On Nov. 15, Sullinger played only seven scoreless minutes in the Brooklyn Nets’ 102-97 victory.
On Christmas Day, Sullinger was more than ready to make up for his rookie mistake a month ago.
Sullinger, the Celtics’ first-round draft pick out of Ohio State, had his best game as a professional, scoring 16 points and grabbing seven rebounds off the bench in the Celtics’ relatively easy 93-76 victory over the Nets.
“Jared was sensational,” Rivers said after the rookie made 6 of 7 shots from the floor and grabbed all seven rebounds off the defensive backboard. “I saw him tonight and I didn’t see a rookie at all. He doesn’t get frustrated easily anymore. I think other people around the country saw that Jared could play a little.”
Sullinger tried to downplay his breakthrough performance. His 16 points tied his career best.
“Just because I had more points than I have in the past doesn’t mean it’s my best game,” Sullinger said. “I’m still learning how to play with this group, still learning how to fit in. But I have to say it was a lot of fun out there.
“Merry Christmas to all. It was my first Christmas game and we won, so that makes it pretty special. I was just fortunate to play hard and find my open spaces. Then things just happened for me.”
Rajon Rondo keyed the Celtics ‘ balanced attack with 19 points.
The victory was just the second in the last six games for the Celtics (14-13), who climbed above .500 again with the win. The loss was the ninth in the last 12 for the Nets (13-13), who lost for the sixth time in their last eight home contests. After posting an 11-4 record in November, Brooklyn is 3-9 in December.
The Celtics took the lead for good, courtesy of a 17-2 run in the second quarter. The Nets cut the lead to eight in the third quarter but couldn’t get any closer as Boston improved to 12-17 overall in Christmas Day games.
“We need to play like this more often,” Rivers said. “If we do play like this, we’ll win a lot of games. I thought we were terrific. I thought everyone did something good in this game. They all did something special.”
Besides Rondo and Sullinger, the Celtics received 15 points from Jeff Green, also off the bench. Paul Pierce scored only eight points but delivered a season-best 10 assists.
“I took advantage of what they gave us,” Pierce said. “Jared was fantastic finding open space. I know I’m not putting up big numbers scoring, but as long as I’m able to help the team other ways, I don’t need to score 25. Jared helps us because he has a high basketball IQ and knows what he’s doing.”
The Nets, playing on Christmas Day for the first time in a decade, received 15 points from Brook Lopez and Gerald Wallace and 12 from Joe Johnson.
The Nets crept somewhat back into the game in the third quarter, courtesy of a 15-2 run that brought Brooklyn to eight at 66-58 with 2:05 left. Johnson had two 3-pointers in the run, including a 28-footer off glass from beyond the top of the key.
But the Celtics answered the run with seven straight points, with Rondo capping the run with a 3-pointer, giving Boston a 73-58 lead entering the fourth quarter.
After taking a 14-point into the break, the Celtics outscored the Nets 8-1 in the first five minutes of the third quarter to push the lead to 64-43 on two free throws from Pierce with 7:13 remaining.
“It was some of the worst basketball I’ve ever seen played,” Rivers said. “No one could score and it wasn’t because of the defense. But I called timeout and told Rondo that he had to take care of the ball and he took over the game right there.”
The Celtics steamrolled the Nets in the second quarter, outscoring the Nets at one point 17-2 in a 5:01 span. Green continued his remarkable recovery after open heart surgery, scoring six points in the second quarter, as the Celtics had their best offensive quarter of the season, scoring 34 points. Boston led 56-42 at the break.
“They killed us the first two games inside,” Rivers said. “We told our players that we wanted to take the paint away from them and force them to take contested two-point shots. If they made those shots, then they deserved to win the game. But our defense was terrific.”
Nets coach Avery Johnson doesn’t know what’s going wrong with his team.
“We didn’t take care of the ball,” said Johnson, whose team committed 20 turnovers. “That was a big issue all day for us. It’s not just turnovers. It’s deflections as well. We have guys who are wide open sometimes, but the ball then gets deflected.
“We didn’t do a good job of making our open shots. When you do that, miss shots, turn the ball over and miss as many free throws as we missed (12), then it puts a lot of pressure on your defense.”
Rivers knows that his team is still a work in progress.
“We’re getting better,” Rivers said. “We’re close to becoming a good team, but our record tells us we’re not. Until our record changes, we’re not a good team, but we’re getting there.”‘
NOTES: Incredibly, this was the Celtics’ 29th appearance on Christmas Day, but the team has played at home only once. Part of that reason is that TD Garden is booked annually for family-related shows. Still, only once in 29 times? “It is strange, but it’s also a bit of an honor that the NBA deems us worthy of a Christmas Day game,” Rivers said. “Of course, everyone would much rather be home. But it is our job and people do work on Christmas.” … Rivers was also not pleased with the noon tipoff. “It’s a bad starting time and a tough one on our players. Most of our players have family and kids with them on the road. It’s tough.” … Rivers also believes that having five games on Christmas is a little too much. “I liked it better when there were two games and everyone in the country sat around watching those games.” … Nets F Kris Humphries, who was benched Sunday against Philadelphia, was inactive Tuesday because of a sore abdominal muscle. … The Celtics were without G Avery Bradley, who had surgery on both shoulders in the offseason but began practicing this week. “He’s just not ready,” Rivers said. “Obviously, we need him, but he’s only had two-and-a-half practices, so we decided it was best to leave him home.” F-C Chris Wilcox (sprained knee, thumb) was also left at home. Both Bradley and Wilcox were slated to work out with the team’s strength and conditioning coaches while the Celtics were away. … It was the first time the Nets played on Christmas Day since 2002, when they defeated Boston in a 117-81 rout. … The Nets played the New York Knicks on Christmas 1984 and won 120-114 when Knicks F Bernard King scored 60 points.