WALTHAM, Mass. -- With captain Paul Pierce dubbed doubtful for Sunday's Christmas Day matchup against the Knicks, Sasha Pavlovic becomes the likely Celtics starter. It's a heady challenge for the veteran wingman, who struggled with his confidence after coming to Boston last March. Still, with Pierce hurting and Jeff Green sidelined with a heart ailment, coach Doc Rivers said he's fully prepared to thrust Pavlovic into the top unit.
"Most likely," Rivers said Friday when asked whether Pavlovic will start in lieu of Pierce. "We've [run him with the starters] this week so he can get a feel. We could change our mind on that one, but I would say most likely."
Previously, Rivers had discussed the possibility of giving Marquis Daniels the Sunday start if Pierce can't go, but on Friday he expressed a desire to keep Daniels with the team's second unit.
"I would love to keep the second unit intact, as much as I can," Rivers said. "I think they [complement] each other, and I think Marquis really helps, especially if we go with a 5-man second unit. I don't know if we'll do it or not, but it just really helps the team."
As for Pavlovic, Rivers was brief on him, but said, "He looks good. It's easier with the first unit because you kinda just stand still. But what I don't want him to do, I don't want him to be so aggressive that he's turning the ball over. ... I think the more comfortable he gets, the better."
Pavlovic said he's already more comfortable now, after just two weeks of preseason, than he was in 17 largely ineffective games (1.8 points per game) last year.
"I feel a lot more comfortable this season because I came at the beginning and now I kind of know what we're doing," Pavlovic said. "We've pretty much got the same plays like last year, so I feel OK."
It's unclear whether preseason stats back him up: In Wednesday's exhibition against the Raptors, Pavlovic was the starter, playing 21 minutes and totaling just 2 points (off an early fastbreak dunk).
Still, the ninth-year swingman stressed Friday that he's feeling better than he has in years -- closer to the player he was in 2006-07, when Pavlovic started all 20 playoff games for the Finals-bound Cleveland Cavaliers, averaging 9.2 points, 2.6 rebounds and 1.6 assists in 30.8 minutes per game.
"I'm trying to get back to that level," Pavlovic said. "I kinda feel now like I felt before. I'm just gonna be out there and do my thing and whatever happens, happens.
"I was in Minnesota [in 2009-10] and after that it was pretty tough for me. But now I feel like I'm back."
The Celtics sure hope so. If Pierce is out Sunday, Pavlovic will be handed the responsibility of stopping Knicks superstar Carmelo Anthony -- no easy task for a player of shaky confidence.
"I've guarded him before," Pavlovic said of the four-time All-Star. "I feel comfortable. I'm gonna get out there and play as hard as I can and make him take tough shots and help the team win the game."