One could easily forget that Luke Harangody is no stranger to big games on the storied floor of Madison Square Garden. But he's played plenty of them before — so when Harangody came up big for the Celtics in their 104-101 win over the Knicks on Wednesday night, it should have come as no surprise.
"I think he thought he was in the Big East Tournament," joked Celtics coach Doc Rivers.
Harangody graduated from Notre Dame this past spring, and he spent the previous four years of his life making noise in the Big East conference with the Fighting Irish. He took the floor at MSG every March, and he always had a big game in him. He opened the 2010 tournament with a 9-for-15, 20-point, 10-rebound effort against Seton Hall. He dropped 27 and eight on West Virginia as a junior. All in all he played eight postseason games at the Garden, and he was a beast in several of them.
So why would it surprise anyone that Harangody put together the first double-double of his pro career, 16 points and 12 rebounds, on the familiar floor in New York City? We should have expected nothing less.
"He was playing terrific," Rivers said. "He was shooting the ball. We're trying to get him to think shoot. Just shoot. When you're open, shoot the ball, keep the game simple, and we're thinking that'll slow him down."
Sure, the opposition was different this time. Harangody was matched up with Amare Stoudemire, a five-time NBA All-Star, for much of his time on the floor Wednesday night. The Celtics didn't have a choice — Shaquille O'Neal and Glen Davis were injured, Jermaine O'Neal was in foul trouble and Kevin Garnett was ejected midway through the second quarter. The C's were sorely lacking in big men, and they needed Harangody to step up.
Oh, boy, did he ever.
Harangody gave the Celtics a monster game. To those watching him for the first time, unaware of what he could do, the breakout performance might have been a surprise. But the 22-year-old forward has been steadily improving over the past year, working toward this moment, and it was frankly overdue.
Harangody had a stellar senior season at Notre Dame, averaging 21.8 points and 9.1 boards. He earned his way into the NBA draft, where he was picked at No. 52 overall by Danny Ainge and the Celtics.
He had a solid training camp in Newport, R.I., earlier this month, and he quietly did a fine job off the bench for the Celtics in their first four preseason games.
So why shouldn't he have a breakout game on the MSG floor?
It's often said that great role players play great at home. It's where they're most comfortable, so it's where they produce. Harangody's not yet at home as a Celtic — he's still played only one game on the TD Garden floor in Boston. New York City is as close to a basketball home as Harangody has, outside of South Bend anyway.
So he came through.
The Celtics needed a big game from a big man, and they got one. Luke Harangody is getting better every day, and with each game, he looks more likely to make an impact in Boston this season. Wednesday night was a big step.
"He's a monster on the glass," Rivers said. "I mean, he just works hard. So that was good for him. I think he needed that."