Euro-Sensational: Sasha Pavlovic vs. the Miami Heat

Q: Do you think Sasha Pavlovic shaves his head so people don’t mistake him for Sasha Vujacic?

A: Nah – he balls hard so people won’t mistake him for Sasha Vujacic.

On April 1, the Boston Celtics capped off a five-game winning streak with an absolute evisceration of the Miami Heat, scoring 91 points while holding their opponent to their lowest point total (72) and field goal percentage (34.8) since LeBron James and Chris Bosh started punching the clock for Micky Arison.  The victory announced the Celtics – who had entered the All-Star break left for dead at two games below .500 and now found themselves eight games above – as legitimate playoff noisemakers and dark horse Title contenders.

Nine days later, the Celtics vaporized any lingering doubt that they were for real by blistering the Heat with a staggering 60.6 percent shooting night on their way to a 115-107 win.  The C’s maintained a three-game lead over the Philadelphia 76ers for the Atlantic Division crown.  In just over a week’s time, they would clinch the Division with a 102-98 defeat of the Orlando Magic, locking up the playoff four-seed.

On April 24, the Celtics squared off against the Miami Heat once more in their second-to-last regular season game.  With playoff seeding assured, both teams elected to rest their weary and wounded key players.  LeBron James and Dwyane Wade suited up, but spent the night on the bench in sweats looking only mildly evil.  Chris Bosh rode the pine in a very smart-looking glen check suit, in recovery from a positively wretched-sounding case of “body soreness.”

The good guys limited Paul Pierce to 17 minutes and left Rajon Rondo (sore back), Ray Allen (sore right ankle), Mickael Pietrus (sore right knee), Greg Stiemsma (plantar fasciitis) and Kevin Garnett (just because) out of the action to prepare for the games to count again.

The starting lineups looked like this:

Things got ugly fast.

“Are we going to get to the first timeout without a bucket for the Celtics?  This is a tough start, here.” –Steve Kerr

The two teams combined to score 62 points in the first half, which we were told was seven points off the mark for the fewest single-half points in NBA history.  Together, they shot 36.1 percent from the field and turned the ball over 24 times.  Using quarter-by-quarter data mined from the very useful and a formula we found here, we calculated that an estimated 92 possessions occurred in the first half.  Twenty-four turnovers divided by 92 possessions times 100 tells us that the Heat and Celtics spent more than a quarter of the first half (26 percent) giving the ball back to each other.

Everything you’d need to know about the first half occurred within its first two minutes, which went a little something like this:

11:41: On the game’s opening possession, Mike Miller attempts to dribble around a Udonis Haslem screen, gets his feet tangled up, and inadvertently flings the ball out of bounds.

11:32: Paul Pierce elevates at the wing and fires a pass to Ryan Hollins beneath the hoop.  The ball bounces off of Hollins and into the hands of Mike Miller.

11:20: Mario Chalmers reverses the ball around the arc to Mike Miller.  The ball slips through his hands like a fish and is recovered by Sasha Pavlovic.

11:15: Pavlovic advances the ball to Paul Pierce, who is stripped by Mario Chalmers on his way to the hoop.  At this point, 100 percent of the possessions have ended in a turnover.

10:57: Shane Battier knocks down a barely-contested corner three (MIA 3, BOS 0).

10:32: Ryan Hollins misses an uncontested four-foot baby hook.

10:10: Somebody named Dexter Pittman catches the ball off the low block and spins into an open look at a bunny J, taking about four steps as he does so.  Celtics ball.

9:57: Shane Battier punches a Paul Pierce pass attempt high into the air.  Ryan Hollins collects the loose ball and is immediately tied up by Dexter Pittman, who forces the jump ball.  The Celtics win the tip.  Paul Pierce misses the ensuing jumper.

And so on.

The Celtics trailed 17-10 at the end of the first quarter and 34-28 at the end of the second.

With a shot at home court advantage in the Conference Quarterfinals and probably a little bit of pride on the line, the Celtics were in desperate need of a second-half spark.  They got one.

“Remember, [Doc] said: somebody on the floor tonight is going to help us in the postseason.  Maybe it’s Pavlovic.” –Steve Kerr

Though he started the game, Euro sensation Sasha Pavlovic saw only 6:20 of floor time during the first half.  Apart from the gift steal described above, he was more or less a no-show, missing both of his shot attempts.  Sasha’s most memorable play occurred between 9:14 and 9:09 in the first quarter, when he sprinted out to contest a Mike Miller three-pointer and allowed his momentum to carry him out of frame-left into the back court.  The Heat collected the offensive rebound and swung the ball back to Miller for another try at a three.  A full four seconds after disappearing from view, Sasha sprinted back into the frame, running past Miller with a hand up as he missed his shot attempt.

The Boston Celtics signed Sasha Pavlovic on March 3, 2011 in an attempt to bolster an injury-depleted squad looking to jury-rig some rotation depth as the playoffs approached.  Sasha played in 17 games, averaging 1.8 points and less than one everything else in 8.8 minutes of action per game.  He wore number 77.  Gheorghe Muresan used to wear number 77.  Unfortunately, Vladimir Radmanovic wears it today.

Sasha switched to number 11 for the 2012 campaign.  For much of the season, he was used as something of a stop-gap solution to a preposterous string of injuries and miscellaneous absences that removed the likes of Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Rajon Rondo, Kevin Garnett, Jermaine O’Neal, Mickael Pietrus, Chris Wilcox and Keyon Dooling from the lineup in assorted combinations and for varying lengths of time.  As such, his minutes fluctuated wildly over the course of the season’s first three months.  He started the first three games of the season, and then played in 25 of the next 46.  He saw as little as 51 seconds of action against the Pacers in early January and as many as 34 minutes against the Magic three weeks later.

Since a late-March ankle injury to Ray Allen facilitated Avery Bradley’s move from the bench to the starting five, Sasha has seen his spot in the rotation stabilize and his performance improve accordingly.  In 16 games starting with the Celtics’ March 28 win over the Utah Jazz, he has played an average of 15.1 minutes per game and connected on 44.7 percent of his field goals, including a 45.5 percent mark on threes.  In the 28 games prior, he averaged 9.6 minutes and shot 36.1 from the field, including a 21.2 percent mark on threes.

“Sasha Pavlovic with that pull-up jump shot.  Very rarely do you see him shoot that kind of a shot.  He’s normally a catch-and-shoot guy, or driving to the basket.  That time, he put it down one or two dribbles, elevated and made it.” –Mike Fratello

Sasha checked in for his first action of the second half with 5:00 left in the third quarter and Boston trailing 46-40, joining Avery Bradley, Keyon Dooling, Ryan Hollins and Brandon Bass on the floor.  Forty seconds later, he caught a cross-court bullet from a driving Keyon Dooling and took it hard to the edge of the paint, putting up a beautiful, high-arcing pull-up jumper with just a touch of fade.  The ball splashed softly through the net.  Miami called timeout.  Here’s what happened next (MIA 46, BOS 42).

3:19: As the ball swings around the perimeter to Battier in the corner, Sasha rushes out to defend.  Battier extends the ball before him, apparently preparing to send a pass to Joel Anthony just outside the paint.  Sasha darts a hand in, slapping the ball away and pursuing it to the sideline as it bounces out of bounds.  Thirteen seconds remain on the shot clock.

3:09: After the Celtics knock the ball out of bounds for a second time, James Jones sets up to inbound from beneath the basket.  Fronted by Sasha, he sends the pass to Norris Cole just inside the extended elbow.  Cole breaks for the hoop.  On his way in, Sasha pivots, sealing him off from behind, and elevates to swat the ball off the basket’s supporting arm.  There are just under four seconds left on the shot clock.

3:07: Jones is now set up to inbound from the sideline.  Fronted by Sasha once more, he looks to find Cole with an overhead loft.  This time, Sasha leaps into the air and spikes the ball back out of bounds.  There are now three seconds left on the shot clock.

3:04: The Heat finally manage to get the ball in play with time enough for Jones to badly miss on a contested three from 27 feet out.

0:30: With the score tied at 48, Sasha chases James Jones into the corner, where they are joined by Ryan Hollins.  Sasha and Hollins squeeze Jones tightly, wrapping him up and forcing the jump ball.  Sasha chases down the ensuing tip, but the Heat retain possession as it bounces out of bounds.

“Clear it out and give Sasha the ball in the middle of the floor, LeBron James-like.” –Mike Fratello

0:12: The Heat immediately turn the ball over to the Celtics on an offensive foul assessed to Norris Cole.  Off the inbound, Sasha advances the ball up the court, stopping just at the bottom of the Celtics logo at half court.  The Celtics have their shooters spread around the perimeter, which leaves the paint wide open.

Guarded by 39-year-old Juwan Howard, Sasha dribbles in place, taking time to consider his options.  With 15 seconds on the game clock, he slowly begins to walk toward Howard.  At the top of the key, he feints to his right, crosses left and drives hard at the hoop, easily beating Howard off the dribble on his way to a barely-contested righty lay-in.  The Celtics take the lead for the first time since the 7:48 mark of the second quarter (BOS 50, MIA 48).

Fourth Quarter, 6:35: Save a cookie-cutter assist on a give-and-go with JaJuan Johnson, Sasha is quiet for the next five-and-a-half minutes.  With 6:35 left in the game and the Celtics leading by four, Sean Williams corrals a blocked E’Twaun Moore jump shot, turns, and sends the ball to Sasha on the other side of the paint along the baseline.  Sasha smoothly knocks down the wide-open J.  Miami calls timeout (BOS 60, MIA 54).

5:16: With 10 seconds left on the shot clock, E’Twaun Moore inbounds from beneath the basket to Sean Williams in the corner.  Sasha curls around the paint, collects the pass near the elbow, then sort of lumbers at the hoop, elevating from the semi-circle for the two-handed slam.  When he hits the ground, his body appears to be built of several number 11s (BOS 62, MIA 56).

4:45: Off a Juwan Howard misfire, the Celtics run out into transition.  E’Twaun Moore sends the pass ahead to Marquis Daniels, who cross-courts it to a wide-open Sasha in the corner.  He is methodical in his set-up, taking the time to gather himself before calmly knocking down the three in the faces of Juwan Howard and Terrel Harris.  It was almost as if he wanted to give them some time to make a contest on the shot, you know, just to make things a little more interesting.

Avery Bradley loved it (BOS 65, MIA 56).

2:30: Sasha begins the process of icing the game, getting out in transition with Marquis Daniels off a Mike Miller turnover.  Daniels pushes softly into the lane and kicks out to a wide-open Sasha at the extended elbow for another three (BOS 71, MIA 60).

1:51: Mario Chalmers front-rims a runner in the lane.  The shot is rebounded by Sasha Pavlovic, who pushes it off to E’Twaun Moore to start the advance up-court.  At the other end, Sasha drifts into the corner, then pops out to catch a pass at the extended elbow.  Sasha up-fakes as James Jones rushes out to contest, dribbles two steps to his right and drills the wide-open 19-footer (BOS 76, MIA 60).

The Celtics would go on to win, 78-66.

Sasha’s 16 points on 7-10 shooting earned him a Game Score of 14.0, his highest mark since he went 4-4 from downtown on his way to 16 points and a Game Score of 15.1 against the San Antonio Spurs in April of 2010.

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