Division clinched, Dooling, bench will get more time

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Division clinched, Dooling, bench will get more time

ATLANTA Judging by the way Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers has strategically shut down his core players recently, it's clear that rest will continue to trump a run at home court advantage now that the Atlantic Division title - and the fourth seed in the playoffs that comes with it - is wrapped up.

That means the bench will get in plenty of end-of-the-year reps, a chance for some of the lesser known youngsters to play major minutes.

But veterans such as Keyon Dooling, who will be 32 years old next month, will benefit from increased playing time as well.

Dooling has missed 20 games this season, 16 because of a sore right knee (seven games) and a right hip pointer (nine).

The injuries made the transition to playing for his new team tougher than it should have been.

Because of that lack of court time, it has taken him longer than he would have liked to have gained the full confidence of head coach Doc Rivers.

Now that he has that, it's just a matter of making the most of his opportunities to play.

And with Rivers insisting that he will continue to find ways to rest guys between now and the playoffs, that means Dooling will have something now that he hasn't had all year - assurances that he'll play consistent minutes.

Now in his 12th NBA season, Dooling is averaging 14 minutes per game with Boston. It is his lowest minutes per game average since he averaged 11.1 minutes while appearing in just 14 games with the Los Angeles Clippers during the 2001-2002 season, his second year in the league.

"It's magnificent when you know (you're playing)," Dooling told CSNNE.com. "When you don't know, it's hard. Even when you're my age, my experience, when you don't know for sure if you're playing, it's very tough. But it's reality. You have to prepare like you're going to play. But it's definitely tough."

But if the playoffs are anything like the regular season, being ready to play at a moment's notice should be a given for this group.

A long laundry's list of setbacks have hit the C's all season, forcing guys few anticipated would even play, to suddenly be thrust into a role of prominence.

Greg Stiemsma was considered a longshot to make the Celtics roster.

Today, he's one of the top rookie big men in the NBA, and has established himself as a reliable back-up center.

Avery Bradley has emerged from being a combo guard that Doc Rivers was not comfortable with playing long stretches at the point guard position, to a defensive menace with a blossoming offensive game that has him on every team's scouting report.

"It's a neat group; I've talked about it all year," Rivers said. "They just kind of figure it out."

Having that ability bodes well for a Celtics team that understands that for them to have a deep playoff run, it'll require every player donning a white and green uniform.

"We don't know who will be in the rotation for the playoffs," Dooling said. "Hopefully we'll have MP (Mickael Pietrus) back. But at the end of the day, they may need us for three minutes, four minutes here or there. We want to be able to contribute, whether it's on the defensive end, in the hustle categories, whether we have to make a shot, whatever it is you have to be mentally tuned in and focused. You can't think about your own personal situation. You have to be bigger than that. That's what's different about this team. That's what's so awesome about this team."

OFFSEASON

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