Hidden Gem: Dooling Delivers in Game 2

ATLANTA – Danny Ainge stood outside the Boston Celtics locker room after the team pulled off an improbable come-from-behind victory in Game 2 of their playoff series against the Atlanta Hawks Tuesday night.

He gave many of his players congratulatory high fives as they passed by him and disappeared behind the locker room door. When one particular player walked by, however, Ainge made sure to pull him in for a full-blown hand grapple and hug.

Keyon Dooling

Keyon Dooling takes and makes a critical 3-pointer during the third quarter of Boston's Game 2 victory in Atlanta.
Scott Cunningham/NBAE/Getty

“Great job,” Ainge said as he looked into Keyon Dooling’s eyes.

Seconds later, Celtics head coach Doc Rivers trailed down the hall and yelled out, “Big shots, Key! Big shots, Key!”

Dooling’s final box score shows that he hit a pair of critical 3-pointers for the C’s – the shots that Rivers alluded to in the quote above – but that doesn’t tell the story of his night. The 12-year veteran brought far more to the table than just his six points, one rebound and one blocked shot.

Dooling was an inspirational force in Game 2. He was also an infectious ball of defensive energy that spread throughout his teammates when they needed it most.

Boston had fallen behind by at many as 11 points late in the third quarter and the team’s body language was as poor as it has been in months. Dooling, a man of few frowns, made sure to be the exception while the rest of his teammates fell into a lull. He stayed on the positive end of the spectrum both on the floor and on the sideline during breaks in action.

“We all have roles on this team. That’s kind of my role,” Dooling said after the game of his uplifting attitude and energy. “It’s been like that all year… We just wanted to lock in and encourage our teammates. We felt like we had an opportunity to win.”

Dooling is as modest a professional as they come, but it would be a travesty to downplay the impact that his leadership played in Boston capitalizing on that opportunity to win. Without his on-ball defense and constant positivity, it’s very possible that the Celtics would be in an 0-2 hole right now.

“Keyon is a veteran,” Rivers said in his first statement to the press after the conclusion of the game. “That’s why you want guys like that on the team. No situation is going to be too big for him.”

Not even trailing by double-digits in the third quarter of a must-win playoff game on the road.

During his 7 minutes and 32 seconds of action in the third quarter, Dooling turned his defense up several notches. He disturbed Atlanta’s offense and took it completely out of rhythm.

Ironically, he was in the game in place of another Celtic, Avery Bradley, who was expected to play that role from the get-go. Bradley had struggled to defend Jeff Teague in the first half, but after seeing Dooling pick it up in his place, Bradley was inspired to match the energy when he returned in the final period.

“I feel like we all kind of rub off on each other when we see each other pick [the opponent] up full court,” Bradley answered when asked about Dooling’s influence on him and the team. “It kind of gets everybody hyped up and that’s what he did.”

Once Dooling’s energy rubbed off onto everyone else wearing green, including Bradley, there was no turning back for the C’s.

Boston limited Atlanta to just 27.5 percent shooting in the second half and 14 points in the decisive fourth quarter. Teague, who lit the Celtics up for 12 points on 5-of-10 shooting in the first half, scored just six points in the second half on 1-of-8 shooting. When Boston’s defense is playing at that high of a level, these guys are nearly impossible to beat.

The performance Dooling put forth tonight is yet another notch on the True Professional Belt for this Celtics team. You can tack another notch on for Marquis Daniels, too, as he logged quality minutes Tuesday night with a similar style of grit to the one Dooling displayed. With Rajon Rondo sidelined for Game 2 due to a suspension, these two battle-tested veterans knew that they needed to be ready.

“We’re professionals,” Dooling said after the win. “Throughout the season we were in the rotation, out of the rotation, not playing that often. But you focus. You give yourself to the team. You never let yourself get out of shape. You never let yourself get in a funk mentally. You stay in tune with the game plan, the schemes. And when your number’s called, you’ve got to be ready.”

No. 51 was ready tonight, and in a big way. The box score won’t tell everyone out there that Keyon Dooling played a crucial role in saving the day for Boston, but Ainge’s simple and proud words certainly do.