Keyon Dooling’s Emotional Leadership Remains Vital Part of Celtics’ Locker Room Atmosphere

Keyon Dooling's Emotional Leadership Remains Vital Part of Celtics' Locker Room AtmosphereIf Keyon Dooling's lone contribution to the Celtics last season was his role in the "Flexin'" craze, his impact would have been considerable. The dance, which Dooling and Marquis Daniels helped popularize during the playoffs, brought smiles to the faces of Celtics fans and annoyed the heck out of the other team's fans.

In other words, Flexin' did exactly what it was supposed to do.

Dooling's importance to the team went beyond a few amusing moments of celebration, though. When it was reported Tuesday that Dooling had agreed to a one-year deal with the Celtics for the veteran's minimum salary, the immediate analysis centered around Dooling's off-court contributions. But Dooling had an effect on the court as well, just not in the traditional sense.

When Avery Bradley confidently strolled five feet beyond the 3-point line on defense to pressure an opposing ballhandler, Dooling's influence was there. When Rajon Rondo played like the best point guard in the league in the second half of the regular season, Dooling's influence was there. When Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and the rest of the Celtics' famous starters were not playing up to their potential, Dooling was there to set them straight.

Dooling played less than 15 minutes per game and averaged only 4.0 points per game last season as the victim of some early-season injuries and a crowded backcourt rotation. He was eclipsed early on by Bradley and Mickael Pietrus, but he never grumbled to reporters about his diminished role. If anything, he strengthened the camaraderie among the team. Rondo, so often treated as the "little brother" by the big three of Pierce, Garnett and Ray Allen, found a mentor who treated the 25-year-old point guard as a man — provided Rondo was willing to act like one. Dooling also led the bench in rallying around the theme that, at some point, each player was going to be needed to play crucial minutes. The fact that Bradley, Pietrus, Daniels, Ryan Hollins and others were prepared when their opportunities arose was a testament to the atmosphere Dooling helped foster.

Speaking of "testaments," no moment captured the esteem in which Dooling was held last season like Brandon Bass' comment following Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against Philadelphia. The Celtics received "a sermon from Rev. Dooling" that, in Bass' words, helped turn a 50-47 halftime deficit into a runaway 101-85 win for the Celtics. Dooling played only 9 minutes and 25 seconds of that game and did not score a point, yet he may have been as responsible for that victory as Bass' 27-point performance.

Dooling's return means Doc Rivers' job, as it pertains to the bench, just got a lot easier for next season. The presence of Jason Terry, Jeff Green and Courtney Lee already guaranteed that the bench would have some firepower, but Dooling assures that the other reserves, such as Fab Melo, Dionte Christmas, Kris Joseph or whoever ends up warming the bench next season, will always be ready. Rev. Dooling will be watching and will not allow anyone to stray from the flock.

Have a question for Ben Watanabe? Send it to him via Twitter at @BenjeeBallgame or send it here.

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