Rivers: Daniels needs to play harder

BOSTON -- To diagnose his recent struggles, Marquis Daniels sat down with Boston Celtics assistant coach Armond Hill before Monday's game against the Detroit Pistons and watched highlights from his performance in Sunday's loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Trouble was there were no highlights, which highlighted the problem with Daniels' recent play.

Marred in a month-long slump, Daniels' struggles reached a nadir with 12 scoreless minutes against Cleveland in which he missed all three shots he took and barely registered on the stat sheet (1 rebound, 1 turnover, 3 fouls, 0 assists, 0 steals, 0 blocks).

What's more, before Daniels' lone rebound in that game, he had hauled in just one board in the previous five games -- a mind-numbing span of 93 minutes of court time with a single rebound.

Not since Mark Blount was in town had Boston's bench seen such rebounding futility.

Including the Cavs game, Daniels registered a total of 17 points and two assists in the six-game span. For the month of March, Daniels is averaging just 4.3 points, 1.3 rebounds and 1.2 assists per game, down from his season totals of 6.3 points, 2.1 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game.

Before Monday's game, coach Doc Rivers suggested the solution to what ails Daniels was simple: He had to play harder.

Daniels responded by producing 11 points on 5-of-7 shooting with five rebounds and four assists in 30 minutes against Detroit.

Not only did Daniels help spearhead some solid play by the bench, he kept the starters in rhythm with Paul Pierce on the bench by early foul trouble.

"Marquis was great," Rivers said after the game. "That's the energy ... we need from him every night. And you can see that.

"He needs to play harder every night and we told him that," said Rivers. "Since he's been back [from injury] -- I thought before he [injured his thumb], he was doing that, and since he's been back it's almost like he's trying to -- I don't know -- find his way or fit in instead of just being who he was.

"He sat and watched film with Armond [Monday] and they just watched his minutes from [Sunday's game]. And you could see it. He's a guy that plays hard. And so [Monday] you could see that he was more aggressive. And that's what we need."

Thrust into the starting lineup almost immediately after his return from thumb surgery, which sidelined him for 28 games, Daniels was super productive over his first nine contests. He reached double digits in points in four of those nine games and, despite putting up a goose egg against the Lakers, averaged 9.4 points and 3 rebounds per game in February.

But the Celtics don't need Daniels to be a scorer. While Rivers often raves about his ability to generate easy points while slashing to the basket (the coach called him a "top-five cutter" in the league), the stats suggest the Celtics are best when Daniels is moving the ball.

Daniels averages fewer points in wins than losses (5.4 points in wins vs. 8.1 points in losses), but averages more assists in wins (1.8 assists in wins vs. 1.3 in losses).

Daniels said after Monday's win that ball movement was the key for a second unit that shined throughout the game.

"We were just trying to move the ball and we capitalized on assists," said Daniels. "We made the right plays down the stretch and guys were finishing tonight. We were just getting the guys the ball in the open spots."

Those who pegged the Celtics a championship contender in the preseason often referenced their bench as a key strength. While Rasheed Wallace, Boston's other big free-agent acquisition, has been a disappointment with his inconsistent play, it's clear the Celtics need Daniels and the entire second unit to play well to be successful.

"The bench is important," said Daniels. "Every night we've got to either sustain the lead or push the lead up if we can. We can't ever come out with no energy, and that's what we had [Sunday vs. Cleveland], so we've always got to come in with it.

"It's just the matter of us wanting to come out [with energy], it's the will. Come out and just play hard every night."

Daniels should be important again when the Knicks visit TD Garden on Wednesday night. He is averaging 10 points in a pair of wins over New York (one in overtime) decided by a total of six points.

Daniels started in place of Pierce the last time the teams met (Feb. 23 at the Garden), registering 14 points on 5-of-9 shooting over 28 minutes. His slashing layup (off a feed from Kevin Garnett) with less than two minutes to play was the deciding basket in a 110-106 triumph.

That was Boston's first game with Nate Robinson after a deadline swap with the Knicks. Rivers acknowledged that Daniels' struggles since then could be due in part to a bench forced to integrate both Robinson and Michael Finley over the past month.

But Rivers wants to see Daniels play with the type of energy he showcased Monday.

"With Nate [at backup point guard], Marquis probably doesn't get enough on the post as he should," said Rivers. "We've talked about that, but you have to go get it too.

"[Daniels is] a role player, but we need his energy every single night. He can't afford to ease his way into games. He's too talented to do that. He may only play 20 minutes, so we need him to be a factor."

Chris Forsberg is the Celtics reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.