- Chris Forsberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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BOSTON -- Many nights this season, after the final buzzer, Kris Humphries would retreat to the locker room with his teammates, listen to coach Brad Stevens' postgame talk, then duck into a nearby exercise room for the cardio workout that he didn't receive over the previous 2 ½ hours.
Humphries played inconsistent minutes at the start of the 2013-14 season, his first with the Boston Celtics, and the only spikes often came when another big was injured or underperforming. Boston leaned most often on its younger players -- Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk and Vitor Faverani -- early in the season, but Humphries pledged to stay ready.
So after practice he'd often join rookie Olynyk for some 3-point work (even though he has shot a mere 18 triples during his 10-year NBA career). After Thursday's practice session, he recruited rookie guard Phil Pressey to run some 17s (the baseline sprint drill that gives most hoopsters nightmares).
On Friday night, with a rare national television stage, early foul trouble for Sullinger opened a rare door for Humphries. The 28-year-old big man responded with his best game in a Boston uniform, putting up a season high 18 points on 8-of-11 shooting with seven rebounds, two assists, a block and a steal over 23:32. Humphries was a team-best plus-26 in plus/minus as the Celtics fended off the second-half surges of the Denver Nuggets while emerging with a 106-98 triumph.
Friday's extended performance afforded Humphries the opportunity to skip his postgame work (though we can't be certain he didn't jump on the treadmill for a quick jog). Humphries slipped on a stylish green twill blazer and turned around to find a rare mob of microphones waiting for him.
He spent the next three minutes stiff-arming questions about his role, all while teammates hurled playful compliments at him from behind the media horde. The final question asked Humphries to describe what this season has been like given his limited role.
"We're winning and stuff; I don't like to focus on me and where I'm at," said Humphries. "We're at the top of the [Atlantic Division], so that's what's important -- whether my role is no minutes, 5 minutes, 20 minutes, or more, I have to contribute and it's not about me, so I don't really want to answer that question."
That echoed what he had said previously when asked if Friday's effort was his reward for all the thankless postgame and post-practice work.
"It's not about me; it's about beating a very good team, that we really prepared for and knew it was going to be a tough game," said Humphries. "We got out to a great start and the bench played great when [Denver] brought it back in the third and we were able to close it out."
While he wouldn't admit it, Humphries played a big role in helping Boston keep Denver at arm's length on Friday. The Nuggets rallied from a 20-point halftime deficit and surged within a possession in the third quarter. Humphries joined forces with Jordan Crawford to provide the offense to keep Boston out front.
Humphries scored eight points on 4-of-4 shooting in that third frame. Stevens kept him on the floor for the first seven minutes of the fourth quarter, and Humphries added four more points, making Denver pay for every open look they gave him in the midrange (or muscling his way to an open basket).
"It feels great because you practice and you practice and you cheer your team on and everyone in this locker room wants to contribute," said Humphries. "Everyone in here can contribute. So, when you get your opportunity, you have to make the most out of it."
Since Olynyk sprained his right ankle two weeks ago, Humphries has averaged 6.9 points and 6 rebounds over 17.7 minutes per game. Even Stevens admitted he has earned a consistent role at the moment, even when Olynyk is healthy enough to return.
The one play that stood out from Humphries' big night came late in the first half. After a defensive stop, the Celtics broke out in transition with Humphries running down the right sideline in a 2-on-1 situation with Crawford. Humphries took a little bounce pass near the free-throw line and got hit by Randy Foye as he launched toward the rim.
Humphries managed to dunk the ball while drawing the foul, but he couldn't grab onto the rim and crashed to the floor with his knees bending in awkward directions. Humphries could laugh about it after the game.
"Thank God nothing tore in my knees," he said. "I feel like both my knees were in weird positions. It was really weird. Thank God I'm all right. I'll probably be a little stiff tomorrow."
And that probably won't be enough to even diminish his practice workload (or his post-practice drills).
"He played great all night," said Stevens. "He's done a good job for us, and again, I think that speaks to his professionalism, too, because this hasn't been always easy for him. But he's always been a pro about everything."
Echoed Sullinger: "Kris played well. That shows a big sign about our team. That somebody is not playing well -- particularly myself -- and you got people like Kris Humphries to step and take charge."
Two early fouls chased Sullinger and relegated him to the bench while Humphries took advantage of the extended run. With five minutes to go and Stevens looking to prevent another run, he started subbing his starters back in.
"I was kinda shocked that he put me back in the game," said Sullinger. "Honestly, I wanted Hump to stay in there. Because he is playing great."
Humphries is in the final year of a two-year, $24 million extension he inked with New Jersey two seasons ago. He is Boston's highest-paid player this season at $12 million, and while many wonder if he'll survive the trade deadline, he's got a lot of his teammates' support inside the Celtics' locker room.
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