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Bench made a stand when it counted

By Michael Whitmer
Globe Staff / June 2, 2012
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With the Celtics’ starting five of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Rajon Rondo, and Brandon Bass combining for 214 minutes during a Game 2 overtime loss two nights earlier, bench play in Game 3 was a given. But bench production? Always an X-factor.

Faced with almost a must-win scenario or risk possible elimination Sunday, the Celtics had their usual stars lead the way Friday night. But the reserves, two in particular, played a key role in Boston’s 101-91 victory over the Heat, slicing Miami’s series lead to 2-1 and guaranteeing at least five games in the Eastern Conference finals.

Marquis Daniels (9 points) and Keyon Dooling (7 points) made the most of their playing opportunity, helping the Celtics break out to a 13-point halftime lead. The pair might not have seen many fourth-quarter minutes, especially after Miami cut a 22-point lead to 8. But by then, Dooling and Daniels had done plenty.

“Marquis was phenomenal tonight. Keyon Dooling was phenomenal. Every guy actually that came off the bench contributed for our basketball team. And we needed it,’’ coach Doc Rivers said.

Through two games, Daniels and Dooling combined for only 7 points and logged just 29 total minutes. They topped their previous point total by halftime of Game 3, and their minutes played by the end of the third quarter.

Giving the starters a rest was always the plan. Getting so much out of Daniels and Dooling ended up being a bonus.

“It was huge, we needed a team effort,’’ said Pierce, who had 23 points. “Guys on the bench, when their name was called upon they were ready, and that’s what being a professional is all about.’’

Dooling first came in for Allen after he picked up his second first-quarter foul. He drained a 3-pointer less than two minutes later, a basket that ended an early 14-5 Miami run. Daniels reported not long after, spelling Rondo, and made a layup off a feed from Pierce six seconds into his shift. Dooling followed with another layup, two baskets in an 8-2 run to close the quarter.

The Celtics took control with a 19-4 run that spanned the first and second quarters, with Daniels (4 points) and Dooling (7 points) netting more than half during the spurt.

How effective was the duo? Only Garnett (plus-27) had a better plus-minus number in Game 3, with Daniels (plus-14) and Dooling (plus-10) proving their worth.

It’s easy to look at the box score and see the offensive contributions made by Daniels (4 for 6 from the field) and Dooling (3 for 4). But don’t overlook their defense.

“Guys off the bench, we don’t come in focusing on scoring,’’ Dooling said. “We’ve got guys who score the basketball, usually our contributions come more in the defensive category, in the energy category, so that’s what we try and deliver.’’

Said Daniels: “It’s funny, [Rivers] told me the last two games, ‘Be ready, you’re going to play.’ He didn’t say nothing to me tonight. Hopefully he doesn’t say anything to me next game.

“Whatever Coach asks me to do, whether it’s rebound, defend, whatever, I’m going in looking to just bring energy and some intensity.’’

Heat star LeBron James (34 points) made 7 of his first 10 shots and scored 16 first-quarter points. But guarded for a good bit by Dooling, he was held to 4 points in the pivotal second quarter, when the Celtics outscored the Heat, 25-14.

“He did a tremendous job guarding LeBron,’’ Pierce said. “That’s something he really brings to the table, he picks up on the ball, he’s really active on the defensive end, getting his hands on loose balls. He gave us a spark.’’

The spark might have started on defense, but included plenty of offense, too. It was the kind of all-around game the Celtics desperately needed from the reserves. It ended up being so good, they’ll have a chance to square the series Sunday night.

“I thought what the second unit did was they came in with a defensive energy that changed the game,’’ Rivers said. “And they scored off the defense. They got stops, they ran the floor. Listen, they are not going to put up great numbers offensively, but they know exactly who they are. They accept that.’’

Michael Whitmer can be reached at mwhitmer@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeWhitmer.

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