BOSTON -- In the Boston Celtics' crowded frontcourt, the next opportunity is never guaranteed, particularly for those on the back side of the depth chart. It's part of the reason veteran Kris Humphries initially played through the pain of a sore right knee that needed to be drained and caused him to miss a couple of games.
Humphries returned to the active roster on Monday night, but during his absence, rookie Kelly Olynyk had returned from an ankle injury, further muddying the rotations. As has been the case for much of the season, Humphries didn't know how much floor time he'd receive against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Foul trouble for Brandon Bass pressed Humphries into extended service, and he responded by registering eight points and seven rebounds over 21 minutes while helping the Celtics to a 101-97 win at TD Garden.
Oh sure, Jared Sullinger hit the big shot (a straightaway 3-pointer with 2:22 remaining to break the game's final tie) while scoring a team-high 24 points, and Olynyk chipped in nine points over 13 minutes. But Humphries' workmanlike effort shouldn't go unnoticed. He finished a team-best plus-14 in plus/minus, Boston thriving in the second half when Humphries was on the floor.
"That's the hardest thing in the NBA: being ready to play, staying ready, mentally and physically, all those things," Humphries said. "Our staff does a great job of preparing us and working with us."
Humphries is in a bit of a unique situation as the highest-paid player on the roster ($12 million this season). His acquisition this offseason as part of the Brooklyn Blockbuster was met with eye rolls by those who judged him more by his exploits off the court than on.
What's often ignored regarding Humphries is that he was a double-double player for much of his time with the Nets. His production dipped when his playing time evaporated last season, but those who watched him promised he'd always be ready for his next opportunity.
In five appearances for the month of December, Humphries is averaging 8.2 points and 6.2 rebounds over 21.2 minutes per game. He's shooting 60 percent from the field, and Boston is plus-56 in his 106 minutes of floor time in December.
This isn't just a five-game trend. Good things are happening when Humphries is on the court. Boston owns an offensive rating of 108.1 when Humphries is on the floor this season, and it drops to 97.4 when he's off. Boston is plus-43 overall in his 288 total minutes of action but minus-63 in the 960 minutes he's on the bench.
"My admiration usually goes to the guys that don't get opportunities because they have to deal with stuff that's harder than being the guy that plays the minutes," Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. "So I thoroughly respect those guys that are sitting. And when their time comes, nobody's rooting harder than me for them to take advantage of it."
Humphries picked up two fouls in his first four minutes on the court but didn't let that faze him. He made 4 of 5 shots, and his emphatic putback slam to close out the third quarter helped Boston carry a five-point cushion into the final frame.
More importantly, Minnesota attacked the offensive glass for much of the night, Boston allowing 19 offensive rebounds to be turned into 23 points. That tightened up in the fourth quarter, when Humphries and the bigs made the adjustment to put bodies on their man.
So how did Humphries' knee feel after his first game back?
"I feel pretty good even though, a lot of times in the NBA, they say you're never going to be 100 percent," Humphries said. "I'm sure there's not a lot of guys in this locker room feeling 100 percent, so it is what it is."
Humphries addressed reporters about 45 minutes after the game and apologized for his tardiness after receiving treatment following the win. He hurriedly dressed in a sweater and blazer, leaving his basketball shorts on.
Yes, Humphries is always ready for the next opportunity. Even if, at age 28, with nine years of NBA experience under his belt, things don't come quite as easily anymore.
"Mentally it's easier, physically … I came into the league when I was 19, and you can sit there for two hours and then go in and run full speed and be loose. You're always loose."
Now? It takes a bit more to keep Humphries up and running. But despite his individual success in recent games, his only gauge for expectations is how the team is faring.
"I really focus on the team and what we're doing as a team," Humphries said. "Personally, it doesn't really matter. I think everyone on this team wants to play 38 minutes, get the ball every time, shoot 20 shots -- that's the way the NBA is, and that's the way if people had the choice, they'd choose that."
Humphries can't choose his playing time, but he's making the most of it when it comes around.