BOSTON - All year long, Celtics coach Doc Rivers has been telling anyone who would listen that reserve guard Sasha Pavlovic has got game. Real game.
Tuesday night, without Boston's big names to defer to when he was on the floor, Pavlovic scored a season-high 16 points, 12 in the fourth quarter, to lead the Celtics' other guys to a 78-66 victory over the Heat's other guys in a sloppy game played with the teams resting most of their major names for the playoffs.
Pavlovic, averaging 2.3 points in 11.3 minutes per game coming in, played 23:21 and went 7-for-10 from the floor, including 2-for-4 from 3-point range. His fourth-quarter explosion helped the Celtics, once down 11-0 while going more than six minutes without a point at the start of the game, blow the game open.
The performance has to be worth something to the veteran Pavlovic as he looks for playoff playing time.
"We pretty much know our rotation, but someone else is going to help you in the playoffs, and games like this can give you confidence," Rivers said. "That was huge for Sasha."
Said Pavlovic: "I always told you I'm going to get out there and play as hard as I can defensively, and I know we were down a couple of guys, but at playoffs it's not going to be like that, so I just get out there and play my role whatever it is that night."
With Miami's Big Three sitting on the bench and only Paul Pierce playing (only 18 minutes) among Boston's stars (Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen, among others, sitting), the Celtics stayed alive in the battle for playoff home court with Atlanta with the victory.
A Boston win in its finale against Milwaukee and an Atlanta loss to Dallas at home Thursday would give the Celtics home-court advantage in the first-round playoff series.
The loss took away the last chance for Miami to catch the Bulls for the best record in the Eastern Conference.
But neither coach cared about either race.
Without LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, the Heat got ahead early, but scored only 55 points in the game's final 42 minutes.
A 22-6 run broke the game open.
"It's funny. I kept saying, 'The quicker we get the starters (Pierce and Brandon Bass) off the floor, the better chance we have to win the game,'" said Rivers. "The reason is that mentally it was very challenging for them."
Marquis Daniels added a season-high 13 points, while Bass had eight points and eight rebounds.
"We play together at practices and for all season, and we know each other and know what we can do, and that's what we use on the court," Pavlovic said, referring to himself and Daniels.
Newly signed big man Sean Williams, getting his first real playing time, had five points, four rebounds, two blocked shots, two assists and two steals.
"I'm just trying to come in here and help these guys reach their goals, getting that 18th ring, and that's all I'm focused on," he said.
Dexter Pittman had 12 points, and James Jones had 11 for Miami.
"It wasn't a pretty game," said Miami coach Eric Spoelstra, in the understatement of the night.
Before the game, Rivers said he had hoped to play Garnett, whose name was listed on the scoreboard before warm-ups (as was James), but Garnett asked out.
"I wanted to play him tonight," Rivers said. "My choice was more tonight and give him a day off Thursday. Kevin never comes in and when he comes in to say 'I think I need two more days,' it speaks volumes."
Asked about Rondo, who has back spasms, Rivers said, "He's just not ready yet. He didn't do much at shootaround today, still very stiff. But he's feeling a lot better. Today was the first day he was out on the floor shooting, so he'll probably play on Thursday."
So, his starting lineup included Pierce and regular starter Brandon Bass, but also included Avery Bradley, Keyon Dooling and Ryan Hollins.
NOTES: The Celtics lost at Miami in the second game of the season, but then beat the Heat twice in the span of 10 days at the start of the month and made it three in a row Tuesday. ... Williams, whose off-court troubles got him booted from Boston College, was in the D-League after playing eight games for Dallas earlier this season. ... The Heat came in tied with the Thunder for the league's top field goal percentage, 47.4 percent, but shot only 38.4 percent without its main players. ... Miami's Udonis Haslam, who had 13 rebounds, tied Alonzo Mourning for second place on the Heat's all-time games-played list, with 593. Wade is three games ahead. ... Boston's Keyon Dooling suffered a cut above the eye in the first half courtesy of old pal Jones. "It's great to have the opportunity to compete on this level after so many battles in high school," Jones said. "He's a great friend, he's a great competitor." ... Boston was also missing Mickael Pietrus (knee) and Greg Stiemsma (sore feet).