Luke Harangody finding his stride

BOSTON -- That elusive first NBA 3-pointer evaded him yet again Friday, but it might have been the best thing that could have happened to Boston Celtics rookie Luke Harangody.

A wide-open chuck from in front of the Boston bench rattled out midway through the second quarter of an 83-81 loss to New Orleans -- just like the other two he's hoisted in his rookie season -- but Harangody crashed the basket, collected an offensive rebound and scored on a putback, capping a five-minute shift in which he helped the Celtics' reserves turn a one-point deficit into a five-point lead.

The hustle play earned Harangody a coveted Tommy Point, even if he was back in a familiar spot on the bench before it could even be awarded. It was that sort of play that gave Celtics coach Doc Rivers confidence to trot Harangody back out for a second extended shift spanning into the fourth quarter.

Showcasing an energy Boston's starters clearly lacked, Harangody logged a career-high 12:49 Friday against the Hornets. The fact he missed four of the five shots he took didn't matter. He scrapped for four rebounds, and his plus-18 in the plus-minus category shows the impact he made on the court.

On a day fellow rookies Semih Erden (DNP) and Avery Bradley (1 second of court time) were cemented to the bench, Harangody might have made his strongest case for increased action, particularly during a stretch in which Boston remains ravaged by injuries.

"You know, Luke Harangody was guarding Emeka Okafor," said Rivers, slightly incredulous at the suggestion that an undersized 6-foot-7 rookie taken with the 52nd overall pick had just more than held his own against a 6-10 former Rookie of the Year taken with the second overall pick (and one who's averaging a near double-double per game this season at 10.6 points and 9.7 rebounds per game).

"I mean, what a hell of a matchup that is. And Luke was phenomenal. He just played so darn hard, so I left him on the floor."

Inside the Boston locker room, Harangody's locker sits in between Kevin Garnett's and Glen Davis'. That's not bad company. To his right, one of the game's most dominating power forwards and, to his left, another undersized frontcourt player who has blossomed by evolving into an energy player.

So as Davis got drafted up to the starting unit in place of the injured Garnett on Friday, it was Harangody trying to fill a Big Baby-like void on the second unit. And despite only 48 minutes of NBA court time to his credit over the first 30 games of the season, Harangody gave a glimpse of why the Celtics were willing to offer the late second-round pick a two-year contract this past summer.

He's bought into an energy role.

"If I'm not doing that, I'm not doing my job," Harangody said.

But guarding Okafor?

"I've had to deal with that throughout the Big East," said the former four-year standout at Notre Dame. "I'm used to being a smaller guy. That just means I have to work that much harder and put a body on him."

So when the former UConn star didn't put a body on Harangody, the Celtics rookie produced his first real NBA highlight with the putback that put Boston out front 34-29 with 5:14 to play in the second quarter.

Now, Harangody is hoping to build off that. One good play or one solid game is not enough for a rookie to earn consistent playing time on a veteran team like this, but it might go a long way toward opening potential opportunities that hadn't previously existed.

After all, Harangody, active for all but two games this season, has earned more "DNP -- Coach's Decision" lines this year (16) than game appearances (13). Much of his court time has come in bite-sized increments, such as 21 seconds versus Oklahoma City in late November, or 41 seconds against New Jersey a few days later. Exactly half of his appearances were 3:05 or shorter before Friday's game.

But with Garnett down and Erden limited by a stomach bug recently, there's been an opportunity for another frontcourt player, and Harangody is grasping it.

"I think the only way to develop is to get actual game reps," Harangody said. "There's not many off days and it's hard to even get practice reps. Every rep I get, I'll take. But I feel I'm growing as a player; I'm learning something new every day."

It's a familiar Boston rookie lament, the type that the likes of J.R. Giddens and Bill Walker would give a knowing nod to if they could hear Harangody talk about his first two months in the NBA.

But, like all young players, he's been told to be ready when his number is called. Friday, he responded.

And there was Harangody, in the middle of Boston's 18-0 run that spanned into the fourth quarter and helped the Celtics erase an 11-point deficit. The run culminated with back-to-back 3-pointers from Ray Allen, which left Harangody delivering back-to-back chest bumps with Allen.

Harangody Every rep I get, I'll take. But I feel I'm growing as a player; I'm learning something new every day.

-- Celtics rookie Luke Harangody

The life of an NBA rookie is not always that glamorous. Take away $18 million from Garnett's 2010-11 salary ($18.8 million) and he's still making nearly twice as much as Harangody ($473,604) will on the first year of the NBA rookie scale. Harangody is often selected by teammates to lug gear to and from the arena, such as carrying a birthday cake out of Madison Square Garden after a preseason meeting in October or hauling Shaquille O'Neal's bags from the same venue a couple of months later (all while Nate Robinson was trying to get him to do the same).

Fortunately, the veterans on this team really seem to like the player they affectionately refer to as "Gody." He's endeared himself to Garnett with a willingness to learn, getting occasional personalized tutelage after practices, and bonded with others by more than holding his own in the playful verbal warfare that goes on in any locker room (but especially this one).

Harangody puts in plenty of extra work, getting up additional shots after sessions, or playing what seems like an endless amount of 2-on-2 games with director of basketball development Tyronn Lue and fellow youngsters Bradley and Von Wafer.

It's all working toward the next time he can deliver an in-game chest bump to Allen.

Garnett is supposed to miss only two weeks due to injury; Kendrick Perkins will be back in February. There's a very good chance that Harangody could end up back in suit clothes and on the inactive list when (or maybe "if" is the better word) this team gets healthy. He could also be shipped to Maine for extended reps with the Red Claws of the NBA Development League.

But he's making the most of his current opportunity. Extended shifts like Friday's take some of the pressure off feeling like he has to make something happen whenever he's on the floor. Now he can simply thrive as an energy player and good things will happen.

And that first NBA 3-pointer can't be far off.

Chris Forsberg is the Celtics reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.