Marquis Daniels back in his groove

NEWARK, N.J. -- For Marquis Daniels, it's all about confidence.

While he maintains he never lost it in himself last season, even as his minutes and production dwindled after he missed 28 games for the Boston Celtics due to surgery to repair torn ligaments in his left thumb, it's clear the confidence coach Doc Rivers had in his player did indeed diminish.

In fact, a clean break seemed inevitable after Daniels faded from the rotation by season's end. But the way Boston's summer played out, the Celtics soon realized they needed the type of player Daniels gave glimpses he could be, and Daniels realized he needed to prove that what the team saw at season's end wasn't a reflection of the player he is.

So now Daniels, decked out in a new No. 8 uniform top, finds himself a key cog in Boston's already ballyhooed bench squad, the top reserve behind Paul Pierce as someone the team is banking on in terms of both minutes and production this season.

And while it's only the exhibition season, Daniels is making great strides in restoring any confidence that might have eroded last season. On a night his bench brethren stole the spotlight, it was Daniels who stepped up and drilled a clutch 3-pointer with 35.4 seconds remaining to help Boston emerge with a 96-92 triumph over the host New Jersey Nets on Thursday at the Prudential Center.

"It's so early, I don't know yet [if the Celtics are getting what they expected out of Daniels]," Rivers said. "But he's healthy and he's playing pretty hard. That was a big shot for him."

Confidence, however, didn't have everything to do with Daniels' sinking the big trifecta from the wing. It was a renewed emphasis on getting to the rim that helped make it possible.

Daniels had shined much of the night by both cutting and driving to the basket, two areas of his game in which he can really be effective when healthy. While he connected on only four of eight shots on the night, he gave himself opportunities to score near the rim, and those are buckets that will fall more as the season goes on.

With less than 45 seconds to play in a tied game, Daniels drove to the hoop and couldn't spin in a layup, but the ball ticked off a defender's hand and Boston maintained possession. He tried to go to the hoop again, while waiting for an inbounds pass from Nate Robinson on the baseline, but the pass was off target and forced him to kick it out to Mario West.

The ball ended up back with Daniels when defenders collapsed on West, and he drilled the 3 over Anthony Morrow. His teammates spilled onto the floor to celebrate the moment when a timeout was called.

Truth be told, he had ulterior motives behind the shot.

"The shot clock was winding down," said Daniels, who put up the shot with three ticks on the clock. In fact, Daniels hit only six 3-pointers all of last season, shooting just 21.4 percent beyond the arc. "I just had to put it up."

Regardless, it went down, capping a night on which Daniels registered nine points and four rebounds over a team-high 30 minutes, 10 seconds of action.

That shot very well could be a springboard to getting the old Marquis Daniels back, the one who shined exactly a year ago and earned the lion's share of the minutes behind Pierce at the start of the season.

"I like seeing anybody hit that shot, so I'm glad he shot it," said Rivers, who didn't seem to know the clock was winding down, as he did question Daniels' reasoning in putting it up. "I love when guys other than the big guys make shots. It's good for all of us."

Good for a Boston bench unit that played outstanding, rallying the Celtics after the starters came out flat and let the Nets build a nine-point advantage before the visitors even got on the scoreboard.

Good for a Boston bench that nearly fumbled away a comfortable lead in the second half, which would have tempered its effort.

Good for a player who needed a big shot to show what he can contribute to this team.

Especially just one day after Rivers stressed that this bench has to step up and win games for the Celtics during the season if Boston is to accomplish its ultimate goal of winning a world title. The starters can't shoulder the load for 100 games like they essentially tried to do last season. The Celtics need players like Daniels to come up with big shots when the starters are off their games.

Daniels said he's just taking what's available thanks to this revamped bench.

"I take what the defense gives me," Daniels said. "I'm trying to get to the basket, make the best of the opportunity. Last year, with the injury, it affected me. Now I can just come out and play hard."

Do his teammates see a newfound confidence in his play? Robinson rode a similar roller coaster last season, and while he started to build back his own confidence during the NBA Finals, giving him a ramp to this season, he believes Daniels is simply taking advantage of the opportunity.

"He's here now, knowing he's a part of this team and helping out," Robinson said. "He's playing defense; he's got that little post-up game. He showing he knows how to play this game."

Daniels is playing with confidence, again.

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