BOSTON -- Semih Erden was toast, the thought of chasing his defender off one more pick-and-roll simply too daunting, so he hedged the ball-handler a little more emphatically than necessary, picking up his sixth foul and ending his night 60 seconds before the Boston Celtics sealed a 119-95 triumph over the Sacramento Kings.
Erden, who had played a mere 11 minutes, 47 seconds since Christmas, logging eight DNP's during that span, posted a whopping 33:29 on Wednesday, filling a frontcourt void as center Jermaine O'Neal sat out with swelling in his troublesome left knee. What's more, Erden matched one career high with 10 points and established another with eight rebounds.
"He ran out of gas, there's no doubt about that," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said with a smile. "That was a foul of convenience, that sixth foul, because I think he thought his lungs were going to burst, so he was trying to get out of the game.
"But he just played with energy and played hard. And that's what we've got to get him to keep doing. That's my job, that's our staff's job. We've got to keep showing him what happens when he does that."
After starting four consecutive games with both Shaquille O'Neal and Jermaine O'Neal injured in mid-December, Erden had slipped into relative obscurity. After Shaq returned to the lineup on Dec. 19, Erden played a combined 18:18 in a reserve role over the next two games before beginning his holiday hiatus.
Sidelined by a stomach bug as the Celtics ventured to Orlando for a Christmas Day battle, Erden missed all three games on the road trip, the last with what the team termed an "upper-respiratory infection."
So Erden remained glued to the bench. That was until Jermaine O'Neal woke up Wednesday morning with swelling in his left knee, which had already sidelined him for 20 games this season.
That opened the door for Erden, who played 16:34 in the first half Wednesday and got even more time after intermission. He struggled on defense at times, but had more ups than downs, particularly on offense, as evidenced by his highlight-worthy effort late in the third quarter when he cleaned up Paul Pierce's missed layup with a thunderous one-handed jam that left him howling at the crowd with Garnett-like intensity.
That's exactly what Rivers wanted to see from his rookie -- the 60th and final pick in the 2008 draft -- and said as much before the game.
"Energy," Rivers answered when asked what Erden's game had lacked thus far. "He's a good player, a young player. What he's learning from us is that there's a level of intensity that you have to play with on every possession, every night. He's going to make mistakes, I don't care about when young guys make mistakes. I care more about focus."
Maybe no number better suggests Erden's renewed intensity than his eight rebounds. If there's been one area of his game that's been lacking, it's an ability to be at least serviceable on the glass. A 7-footer averaging 13.3 minutes per game should be grabbing better than 2.3 rebounds per contest. Erden simply has not played with the necessary energy to improve that stat.
On Wednesday, Erden's intensity led to both points and rebounds -- until he ran out of steam. But given his lack of court time lately, Rivers didn't mind him stumbling to the finish line. In fact, he was more happy with the fact he made it that far.
"He was ready, which is the most important thing," Rivers said. "It's tough for him, because he didn't know [Jermaine O'Neal would be out]. Hell, I didn't know. So it's a good job by him. Especially a young player, because most young players, they would think, 'I'm not playing today,' and not come with the right mental approach."
Chris Forsberg is the Celtics reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.