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BOSTON -- In mid-December, with Rajon Rondo set to be sidelined for two weeks after spraining his ankle in a win over the New York Knicks, Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers made a renewed plea for his bench players to fill the void as injuries mounted.
The next night against the Atlanta Hawks, reserve guard Von Wafer logged two rather forgettable second-quarter minutes, finishing minus-5 in plus/minus while doing little more than committing a shooting foul. He didn't get back on the court that evening.
|Von Wafer is starting to find his stride coming off the Celtics' bench, as Monday's 10-point, six-rebound effort will attest.|
Three nights later in Indiana wasn't much better. In 93 seconds of court time, Wafer finished minus-6, watching Mike Dunleavy splash a pair of 3-pointers to start the second quarter before getting another quick hook.
On Christmas Day in Orlando, Wafer drew a DNP-CD.
Many players would have lost their confidence. Wafer, who had kicked, clawed and scratched just to secure the 15th spot on Boston's roster out of training camp, never did.
"The day I lose my confidence in myself is the day I'll stop playing," Wafer said.
His tenacity has paid off. After aiding Boston's bench in providing a spark during a post-Christmas win in Indiana, Wafer's playing time has increased. The 51 minutes he's logged over the past four games accounts for more than 30 percent of his total playing time this season.
On Monday, he put together his finest effort in a Celtics uniform, connecting on 4-of-8 shots for 10 points -- his first double-digit output since April 13, 2009 with the Houston Rockets -- and added a team-high six rebounds over 15 minutes, 37 seconds of inspired play in Boston's 96-93 triumph over the Minnesota Timberwolves at TD Garden.
Wafer finished a team-best plus-15 (on a night Ray Allen was minus-15) and earned lofty praise from Rivers.
"Well, we give him a lot of [grief] about it because -- and we still give him [grief] -- I think on media day he said, 'You know, I'm an offensive player,'" Rivers said with a smile, knowing full well that being an offensive player doesn't mean a thing on his squads.
"That was his quote. But he's proven to us that he's more than that. I think a lot of players have that in them, they just don't know it sometimes. We're getting it out of him, and he's actually enjoying it. It's funny to watch him -- he gets excited about defensive stops now. And that's great, because I get excited about that as well."
Wafer appears to be carving out a role in that defense-first mentality, aided by an almost frenzied approach to defense as he often hounds the opposing ball-handler. At one point Monday, Wafer's inspired defense on an in-bound play led to a five-second violation early in the fourth quarter.
The 10 points he contributed Monday were nice, but forcing that type of turnover is what will keep him on the floor.
"Everybody else [plays defense]," Wafer said. "I don't want to be the only guy who doesn't. I wouldn't be here if I didn't buy in."
In addition to Wafer's perseverance, Celtics management deserves credit for sticking with him. Even when the injury bug invaded, president of basketball operations Danny Ainge always stated how much he liked this roster, even with the periodic lack of production from some players, including Wafer.
There's still room for Wafer's game to grow, but Monday's effort provided a glimpse of what he can provide off the bench. The type of production that left Celtics captain Paul Pierce calling Wafer a potential X-factor back in October.
"It took him a while to get adjusted to how we do things around here, just the mentality," Pierce said after Monday's win. "It's come along very well, to Doc's liking, and it's showing on the court. He's doing the same things in practice, and that's why he's been able to play a little bit more. He's getting to his spots, he knows where to be. He struggled before because in practice he didn't do those things. Now, I think it's a plus, especially with the lack of depth we have due to injuries."
The 25-year-old Wafer, a bit of a journeyman playing for six NBA teams in five seasons, has endured plenty in his short time in Boston. He had to fend off a furious preseason charge at his roster spot by the likes of Stephane Lasme and Mario West. Then came an early-season locker room scuffle with Delonte West after some heated two-on-two games.
Through it all, the Celtics' players stood behind Wafer. He'd have small breakthroughs, like an inspired defensive effort against New Jersey in late November that left veterans singing his praises. Now he's settling in, and on the day West got his cast removed from his fractured right wrist, Wafer knows he has a role on this team moving forward.
"I'm just trying to bring energy," Wafer said. "I don't think I have to play outside of myself or bring anything more. I feel like I can do more, but I'm just here to play my role."
And even after their little dust-up, West likes what he sees from Wafer, the man holding down the backup shooting guard role West would like to earn back eventually.
"We watch Von every day in practice and he's highly talented," said West. "The more he gains his confidence, the more he has to offer. The guy can play, that's the reason why he's here. You guys are getting a glimpse of what we see in practice every day. He can score the basketball, but as his confidence picks up, he's playing terrific the last couple of games."
Wafer never lost his confidence, but that doesn't mean his struggles didn't prevent it from growing. Games like Monday's will go a long way toward helping him restart the building process, and show why his teammates have rallied behind him.
Monday's game against the Timberwolves is the type Boston might have fumbled away last season. Efforts like Wafer's helped prevent that from happening this time around.
Chris Forsberg is the Celtics reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.