ATLANTA — When DeMarre Carroll is having one of those nights where the shots just won't fall, like Game 2 of the playoffs, he doesn't get down on himself.
He knows there's so many other ways he can help the top-seeded Atlanta Hawks, whether it's playing shutdown defense, banging for a rebound or diving to the floor to grab a loose ball.
Besides, Carroll knows a thing or two about adversity beyond the court. His brother died young. He's been shot. He has a rare liver disease. Not to mention, all those doubts about his future in the NBA as he bounced from one team to another.
"It made me stronger, man," Carroll said of the winding journey that brought him to where he is now. "I've been through so much, but I look at it as a positive. I look at me being a testimony for all the other individuals or kids or whoever in the world is going through something. You can go through obstacles but still succeed in life."
Carroll has become the emotional core of the Hawks, who surged to the top of the Eastern Conference this season and hold a 2-1 lead in their playoff series against Brooklyn.
The 6-foot-8 forward had 17 points in Game 1, helping Atlanta get by even though top scorer Paul Millsap had a tough night. Carroll was the one struggling in the second game, making only one basket and missing all five of his attempts from 3-point range.
But his only points came on a crucial layup with less than a minute to go, helping the Hawks hold on for a 96-91 victory. Plus, he had eight rebounds, five assists, a steal and a block. At the defensive end, he's largely responsible for holding Joe Johnson of the Nets to 36 percent shooting (12 of 33) in the series. Carroll also had a playoff career-high 22 points for the Hawks in Game 3.
"My main focus in these playoffs is keying in on defense," said Carroll, who is always easy to spot with his distinctive dreadlocks. "I've got to stop Joe. I can't let him get going. The rest will take care of itself."
Carroll learned at an early age to persevere.
He was just 5 when his older brother DeLonte died of a brain tumor. During the summer of 2007, while attending Missouri, Carroll was randomly shot in the ankle during a disturbance outside a nightclub, another reminder of the frailty of life. If that wasn't enough, he also learned in college of his liver disease, which could eventually require a transplant but likely long after he's finished his basketball career.
"My whole motto, my whole mindset throughout my life is someone can have it worse than you," said Carroll, who has a tattoo of his brother's face on his left arm.
After a stellar career at Missouri, where he was known for a tenacious style that earned him the nickname "Junkyard Dog," Carroll was drafted late in the first round by the Memphis Grizzlies in 2009.
It didn't work out.
"He was an energy guy, flying all over the court," said then-Memphis coach Lionel Hollins, who in an interesting twist now leads the Nets. "But he was young and immature. A lot of guys come into the league with a higher opinion of themselves and expecting a bigger role. It takes time."
Time the Grizzlies didn't have.
Carroll was demoted to the D-League and dealt to Houston before his rookie year was done. Waived by the Rockets at the end of the season, he moved on to Denver but played only four games before he was let go again. After signing with Utah, Carroll made a few starts and finally showed signs of getting his career on track. But it wasn't until he signed a two-year deal with the rebuilding Hawks in 2013 that it all came together.
There are a few guys in the NBA where you're like, 'Man, that guy's got so much in the tank. If he could just be untapped,'" said Atlanta teammate Kyle Korver. "He's always been a guy who just wants to go out there and hoop, ball, play hard, get offensive rebounds, a one-man, full-court press. That's been his mantra his whole life. "
But he came here and learned fundamentals, too."