Celtics coach Doc Rivers is brutally honest when he admits that he hopes to never have to use the 12th man on his active playoff roster. This is the time of year when rotations shorten and Rivers is likely to operate with a lineup that runs only eight or nine deep.
But if Celtics reserve Sasha Pavlovic was hoping to make a strong final impression for the opportunity to sneak onto that active roster, he picked as good a time as any.
Pavlovic scored 19 points on 7-of-10 shooting, canning 4-of-5 trifectas over 35 minutes off the bench. For the eighth-year journeyman of six teams, Wednesday's outburst ranks among the top 12 scoring nights of his career and was his biggest offensive outburst since scoring 20 points with Cleveland on April 15, 2009.
What's more, Pavlovic picked up his defensive intensity (and his intensity overall, as evident by a third-quarter dust-up with former Celtic Bill Walker). And it's on the defense end that Pavlovic must shine in order to usurp fellow reserve Von Wafer for a roster spot at the start the postseason (though rosters are flexible, game to game).
A charge Pavlovic absorbed from New York's Derrick Brown early in the fourth quarter might go a long way toward that cause.
"The whole bench exploded on that one," Rivers said. "So that was just good. I thought the minutes helped him kind of get comfortable. Sasha, you know, he’s such a confidence player. He made his early shots and then he missed one and almost didn’t want to look at the rim. And then he made another one and started looking again. So that was just good.”
Rivers noted last week in Chicago how Pavlovic's biggest detriment throughout his NBA career has been an inability to maintain his confidence when he makes a mistake on the floor. Rivers has been on him about moving past that initial error and playing with sustained intensity.
"[Rivers is] helping me," Pavlovic said last week. "He's pointing to my mistakes and I'm trying to listen to whatever he says, and I'm trying to put that on the floor."
Rivers wouldn't tip his hand on how his active roster will look, but suggested he might need to see how the candidates perform in practice the next three days before making a final decision. Pavlovic, who played a quiet eight minutes Monday in Washington, might have kept his name in the running with Wednesday's effort.
--J.O.'S KNEE FINE AFTER BIG MINUTES--
Jermaine O'Neal turned in perhaps his best performance in a Celtics uniform Monday night against the Wizards, logging season highs in minutes (37), points (15), rebounds (13) and blocks (5) while giving his surgically repaired left knee its stiffest pre-playoff challenge. So how did that knee respond?
"J.O. was one of the better guys as far as treatment -- he didn't need it the next night," said Rivers. "He felt great. He knew more than the coach; I didn't want to play him [in Washington]. He thought he needed to play in the back-to-back. I kept telling him, 'You know there's no back-to-backs in the playoffs.' It was more about his rhythm and he was right."
Rivers went so far as to suggest that O'Neal might be back playing at the level he had been at right before the knee swelled again earlier this season, forcing him to shut it down and eventually go under the knife. That ailing left knee sidelined O'Neal for 56 games, but he had a solid 10-game stretch before the knee forced him to sit out for 2½ months starting in mid-January.
"It's just good to see him play well, play with the speed that he played at defensively," said Rivers. "He was doing a little bit of that right before he went down. He hadn't done that -- to that degree -- since he's been back, so that was good to see."
O'Neal sat out Wednesday's regular-season finale against the Knicks, but could be the starting center when Boston and New York tip off Sunday, depending on the health of fellow center Shaquille O'Neal (right calf sprain).
--LAYUP LINE: REVVED RESERVES, MURPHY FOR THREE, WAFER'S EFFORT--
* Boston's three-man bench of Pavlovic, Troy Murphy and Avery Bradley combined for 48 points on 21-of-32 shooting (65.6 percent) with 9 rebounds, 5 steals and 3 assists. Sure, it was as Jayvee matchup, but that ranks as the fourth-highest point production by the Boston bench this season.
* Speaking of Murphy, he drilled his first 3-pointer in a Boston uniform with 6:09 remaining in Wednesday's game. Murphy, a respectable 38.9 percent shooter from beyond the arc for his career (just three years ago he finished third in the league at 45 percent), needed 171 minutes and 10 attempts in Boston before hitting that triple.
* Wafer put together another solid effort in his hunt to earn an active roster spot. He chipped in 14 points on 6-of-13 shooting with six rebounds, five assists, and a steal over 36:12. Four turnovers worked against him, but Wafer set the tone with eight first-quarter points. It might come down to whether the Celtics believe Wafer can make a defensive impact in an emergency situation despite his size (at least compared to Pavlovic).