MINNEAPOLIS Keyon Dooling is an 11-year veteran, but he might as well be a wet-behind-the-ear rookie when it comes to gaining the trust of Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers to put him on the floor during critical moments.
Dooling's presence has been a huge plus for the C's locker room, but multiple injuries along with a condensed schedule have afforded him few opportunities to prove his worth on the court.
Now that he's healthy, the 6-foot-3 guard is starting to string together the kind of play the Celtics envisioned him providing.
And the timing could not be better, with the C's (28-22) in a tightly contested race for the Atlantic Division crown all while once again dealing with injuries.
There were a number of players who stepped up in Boston's 94-82 win over Utah on Wednesday, but few delivered as big a shot as Dooling's 3-pointer in the fourth quarter that broke open a 66-all tie after the C's squandered an 18-point lead.
"Keyon, he's just coming on," said Rivers.
Boston came into the season planning to play Dooling at both guard positions off the bench, although more time would be spent as Rajon Rondo's backup at the point. That would have allowed Avery Bradley to come off the bench and play the bulk of his minutes behind Ray Allen.
But a sore right knee injury kept Dooling out for seven games in January. Less than a week after returning from that injury, he suffered a hip pointer injury that kept him out for another nine games.
With him out, Bradley played more at the point and has since blossomed into a reliable role player off the bench, or a last-minute fill-in as a starter.
Bradley, a second-year guard who played sparingly as a rookie, has indeed come a long way in gaining Rivers' trust.
And he did it the only way it can be done, and that's making the most of every opportunity to play.
Dooling is starting to follow a similar path with the C's now.
"At the end of the day, everybody's banged up this time of year," Dooling said. "But I'm starting to earn Doc's trust a little more; starting to find my niche and role on this team. I want to continue to try and execute it every night."
That means coming into the game, providing solid defense, steady play in the backcourt and when given an opportunity to make a difference, not shying away from the moment.
Dooling did just that in Wednesday's win.
In addition to the 3-pointer he hit to break a 66-all tie, Dooling would later drill a 20-foot jumper that put the C's up by five points. Boston was able to maintain a two-possession lead or greater for the rest of the night.
Boston went into the fourth clinging to a five-point lead. To see it wiped out less than a minute into the fourth, Rivers would have been justified in yanking the backups and bringing more starters back on the floor.
But Rivers stuck with the second-unit guys like Dooling, and they rewarded him with some clutch plays that went far in extending Boston's home winning streak to seven in a row.
For Dooling, it was just another example of the ebb and flow in his first season with the Celtics.
"Just because you're not a young player means you're exempt from the emotions of the game," Dooling said. "You ride the highs, and sometimes you feel the lows. We're at a point now where a team makes a run, you don't get snatched out. You being out there being able to make plays is a gratifying feeling."