Celtics rookie Luke Harangody didn't arrive in Boston expecting to play a starring role. And why would he? He might have been a big star at Notre Dame, but in the NBA, he was a No. 52 overall draft pick, he was making the rookie minimum, and he was hired to be a third-string power forward behind Kevin Garnett and Glen Davis.
"On this team, you've got to look around this locker room and realize who you're around," he said. "I just took it as an honor to have a locker next to all these Hall of Famers in here."
But on Friday night against the Toronto Raptors, Harangody was suddenly much more than a guy with a locker. He was the star of the show.
The 23-year-old undersized forward had a breakout performance for the Celtics in their blowout win over the Raps, registering career highs of 17 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks in 26 minutes of work. He transformed himself from the 12th man to the driving force behind a team loaded with All-Stars and future Hall of Famers.
"He was great," coach Doc Rivers said. "He was phenomenal. I just thought his energy, number one, was fantastic. And he made shots — he can do that when he slows down a little bit, and I thought he did that today. He's also an uncanny rebounder for his size. He was in college, and he still is."
Harangody first entered the game with 3:58 left in the first quarter and the Celtics up five. Within seconds, he fired away on his first jump shot — a 20-footer from the right wing to stretch the lead to seven. He ended up with eight points in the first quarter alone, on perfect 4-of-4 shooting.
"To hit that first shot and get my momentum going was huge for me," he said. "My teammates have been behind me this whole time, so it's been great."
The kid only got better as the night went on. He played big minutes defensively against Raptors star Andrea Bargnani. He pulled down tough rebounds on both ends of the floor. And he just kept shooting — he finished the night 8-for-11, unquestionably the best performance of his career.
"Tonight was probably the first night I felt comfortable out there to just be me," he said. "I finally relaxed. You could probably see that — everybody could probably see that. It just felt good to go out there and have some fun. The great thing about this team, and the great thing about playing for Doc, is he has that confidence in me to go out there and do it. If I have a shot, I take it. On a lot of other teams, you don't get to do that as a rookie."
Harangody's getting a lot of privileges that aren't usually afforded to rookies, especially not No. 52 picks on minimum contracts. He's playing big minutes in the rotation of an NBA title contender, which is pretty much beyond his wildest dreams. But it's not just luck — he earned every privilege through hard work.
It wasn't even a given that he'd make the Celtics' roster out of training camp. Once he did make it, it was still doubtful that he'd play at all. Once he got to play, no one thought he'd play this much.
But it's Harangody's tenacity that's gotten him to where he is, and that's not going away anytime soon.
"He's going to fight, and he's going to do whatever he needs to do for you," Rivers said. "And the guys appreciate that, honestly. They love effort. When you get guys that come off the bench and play with the effort and the intensity that he plays with, I really think the starters, really, they love that. That's what gets them up and cheering. That's why they like him so much — because they see his effort every day."
"He has a lot of guys on him," added Shaquille O'Neal. "He has a lot of guys that he goes up against in practice. But we've been on him to just take his time, shoot the ball with confidence and just play hard. He did that tonight, and he played well."
It's only one game — and when the next one rolls around, he might be back to a bit part off the Celtics' bench. But for the moment, Luke Harangody is the big man on campus, just like he was in South Bend a year ago.
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