THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Rookie was a booster shot

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By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / January 8, 2011

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By the time Luke Harangody dropped in his 17th point of the evening, on a reverse layup, the entire TD Garden was pulling for him. He ran back up the floor, making a muted fist pump. It was a well-deserved gesture, because after drawing chuckles from his benchmates for his offensive assertiveness, there was little else to do but cheer.

As the Celtics well know, there is no mystery surrounding Harangody: he shoots. And last night, as the Celtics beat the Raptors, 122-102, Harangody kept shooting, taking a team-high 11 shots (making eight). The rookie had scored 22 points all season entering the game.

Harangody also totaled 11 rebounds and two blocks in 27 minutes.

“He just plays hard,’’ coach Doc Rivers said. “He’s going to make shots. The one thing he’s not is shy. I think he was in all of a half a second and he took a shot. The whole bench started laughing, because that’s who he is. We want him to stay that way. He’ll make mistakes because he’s young. He’ll make mistakes because he’s going fast. But he’ll never make a mistake because he’s not going hard. To me, as a coach, as long as he’s not hurting your team too much with the mistakes, you love him.’’

They certainly loved him last night.

“He’s going to fight, 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 stars really 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.’’

Harangody was tied for the team lead in scoring at halftime (11 points, matching Ray Allen and Paul Pierce), an appreciative crowd chanting his name. It took him just four minutes to score his first 8 points as the Celtics raced out to a 12-point first-quarter lead.

After hitting a 3-pointer on the Celtics’ first possession of the second quarter, he didn’t score again until there were two minutes left in the third. That basket prompted another Garden serenade.

Harangody said it was the first time he had felt so comfortable in his short NBA career, given confidence by Rivers’s confidence in him.

“Just kind of be me,’’ he said. “I just finally relaxed, and you could probably see that, everyone could probably see that. It finally felt good to be out there and have some fun.’’

It will feel good, too, to head home after a breakout performance. The Celtics play in Chicago tonight, and the Indiana-born Harangody expects to have a large cheering section and quite a few text messages.

And although he might not match last night’s production in every game, it seems that the coaching staff has faith in him. Or at least enough to let him be himself.

“That’s the one thing we knew: When he slows down, like he did today, he makes those shots, and that was good,’’ Rivers said. “Every time he makes a shot, the legend of Luke grows in a lot of ways. We laugh, but it does. The next game, you hear the other team yelling, ‘Get back out to him, get back out to him.’ And that creates space for [Rajon] Rondo and everybody else.’’

Harangody will be shooting the ball. That is something for which Rivers said the Celtics should “blame or thank [Notre Dame coach] Mike Brey.’’ Last night there was a lot more thanking than blaming. And there was an acknowledgement from Harangody that he’s not shy about lofting the ball toward the net.

“I did it four years at Notre Dame,’’ he said. “If I’m open, I’m going to take the shot.’’

Amalie Benjamin can be reached at abenjamin@globe.com.

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