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Erden’s play far from foul

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By Frank Dell’Apa
Globe Staff / November 18, 2010

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Semih Erden showed he is a fast learner last night.

Erden picked up four fouls in a 5:58 span in the second quarter, leaving the Celtics on the verge of a center shortage halfway through their 114-83 win over Washington.

But Erden returned after halftime wiser and more effective. Not only did he contribute 9 points and 3 rebounds, he was able to go 15:15 without committing a foul, allowing Shaquille O’Neal to take a much needed rest.

Minutes-management is among the highest of Celtics priorities during the regular season. And, with Jermaine O’Neal (knee) out, the Celtics are hoping Erden can fill in, at least until Kendrick Perkins returns from knee surgery. Erden, 24, two years younger than Perkins and a few months younger than Glen Davis, adds endurance, energy, and enthusiasm to the inside game. The trick is for him to remain on the floor.

By halftime, though, Erden had totaled 21 fouls in his first 79 minutes of NBA playing time over seven-plus games — more than one foul every four minutes. That is why Erden’s foul-less second half was significant for his confidence and for the Celtics’ confidence in him.

“It’s hard, but I learn,’’ Erden said. “I am learning how to play, learning about talking to each other. Sometimes, I forget and I try to help, and foul. But it’s OK, I’ll do better.’’

Indeed, Erden gained plenty of experience with club teams in Serbia and Turkey, and also for the Turkish national team in international competitions. But moving to the United States and playing in the NBA involves adjusting to a much different style on and off the court.

Erden has been able to find his way around Boston and absorb the Celtics’ game plans, his pick-and-roll instincts serving him well both on defense and offense.

Erden got in with the first unit briefly in the opening quarter and scored off a Rajon Rondo feed. Then, with the second unit, Erden converted his own follow for a 37-31 advantage 2:29 into the second quarter. But, instead of holding the fort and giving O’Neal a break, Erden slammed into Trevor Booker for his fourth personal with 9:14 remaining in the half. In came O’Neal for an extended run, and the Celtics stretched their lead to 60-44 by halftime.

But O’Neal would only need to perform for six minutes in the second half.

Erden was careful to back away from driving Wizards but also aggressive enough to remain effective. Erden took a shot to the face from JaVale McGee as he dunked early in the final quarter, and he finished off a three-point play for a 94-60 advantage.

That play might seem insignificant, the Celtics holding such a large lead. But it might have symbolized Erden turning the corner — instead of being called for fouls, he was drawing them.

“I’m a rookie,’’ Erden said, “but I have experience, I played in Europe.’’

And, until Jermaine O’Neal and Perkins recover, Erden will be coach Doc Rivers’s first center option off the bench.

“I played and it’s important,’’ Erden said. “But it’s the coach’s decision.’’

Frank Dell’Apa can be reached at f_dellapa@globe.com.

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