Celtics

Pierce (heel) out, Pavlovic to start vs. Heat

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Pierce (heel) out, Pavlovic to start vs. Heat

MIAMI For the second straight game, Sasha Pavlovic will get the start at small forward for the Boston Celtics in place of Paul Pierce who remains out with a right heel injury.

While there may have been a couple of questionable calls in Boston's 106-104 loss to New York on Christmas Day that went against the C's and Pavlovic, the need to be more aggressive is something Pavlovic and Celtics coach Doc Rivers understand has to happen if they are to have any shot at knocking off the Miami Heat tonight.

The loss to the Knicks, a game in which Carmelo Anthony scored a game-high 37 points, was a teachable moment for both Pavlovic and Marquis Daniels who will also look to fill the void left by Pierce being sidelined.

"Just compete," Rivers said. "It's a learning lesson. We'll be better."

It was a lesson that Pavlovic expects will help better prepare him for tonight's matchup against two-time league MVP LeBron James, a former teammate in Cleveland.

"I just have to be as much as aggressive as I can be, make it as hard as I can for him to score the basket," Pavlovic told CSNNE.com. "Obviously, they're both great scorers. It's not like I'm going to stop them from scoring, but I have to make it tough for them."

Part of that involves him being more aggressive on offense and at times, look to shoot.

In the loss to the Knicks, Pavlovic did not take a single shot from the field and far too often, didn't show any signs of looking to score.

"I have to be more aggressive offensively," he said.

However, doing so with the Celtics is challenging when you consider Pavlovic starts with four players who have all been named to multiple all-star teams.

"We do have a lot of guys with a lot of talent who can score on this team," Pavlovic said. "But I have to make it tougher for them, so I need to be more aggressive offensively."

LeBron James remembers all too well that Pavlovic, while not being one of the Cavalier's top players, was instrumental in their success which included a trip to the NBA Finals.

On many nights, it was Pavlovic - not James - who would defend the opposing team's top scorer at the shooting guard or small forward position.

"Sasha's a very athletic wing," James said. "he plays hard; very physical. He's very gifted."

But those talents that have been talked about so often by players and coaches, seldom show up with any kind of consistency in games.

It's the main reason why Pavlovic is a player whose role in the NBA remains such a mystery despite this being his ninth NBA season.

"I'm just happy to see him in the NBA as well as seine that he's getting an opportunity to play," James said.

But for how long?

Pierce's return will surely cut into Pavlovic's playing time.

When you throw in the fact that newly acquired Mickael Pietrus is probably a week or so away from stepping on to the floor, Pavlovic's playing time now becomes even more important if he is to establish himself as a player the Celtics can look to coming off the bench.

"I'm going to do whatever I can to help us win," Pavlovic said. "That's all I think about right now; helping us win games."

WATCH: Celtics vs. Mavericks

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WATCH: Celtics vs. Mavericks

Tune into NBC Sports Boston to watch the Celtics play the Mavericks in Dallas. You can also click here to watch the Celtics livestream presented by Nissan on the NBC Sports App. Coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live Presented by ACE Ticket.

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Celtics-Mavericks preview: C's need to play Smart vs. Dallas

Celtics-Mavericks preview: C's need to play Smart vs. Dallas

Get it done. No excuses.
 
That has been how the Boston Celtics have played most of this season.
 
And if there’s one Celtics player who embodies that on this team, it’s Marcus Smart.
 
The fourth-year guard has struggled all season with his shot-making, but when the game is on the line in the fourth quarter you can count on Smart to be on the floor.

THE WINNING STREAK

He has been among the many reasons Boston has won 15 in a row, which is the fifth-longest winning streak in franchise history.
 
And Smart will be among the Celtics looking to keep it going tonight against the Dallas Mavericks.
 
Most likely, Smart will make an impact with his defense, which is among the best in the NBA.

How good?
 
Smart has a defensive rating of 93.4 (points allowed per 100 possessions) which is tops among all guards in the NBA, and ranks third among all players who have played in at least 10 games this season.
 
But in the 110-99 win over the Hawks, Smart knocked down a couple of 3-pointers which was a big deal considering how mightily he has struggled shooting the ball this season.
 
Smart is shooting 27.3 percent from the field as well as from 3-point range – both career lows.
 
However, he’s also averaging career highs in assists (4.5) and rebounds (5.1) this season.
 
And while he certainly doesn’t appear to be affected by the shooting struggles, he acknowledges that it is something that he can’t help but think about from time to time.
 
“It does affect you, especially if you’ve been working (on shooting) all summer,” Smart said. “At the same time, I don’t take as many shots. But like I said, we got other guys who are playing well. My job is to get them the ball and do whatever I can, go back down the floor, play defense and get the ball again.”

In Boston’s win over Atlanta, Smart spent a good amount of time defending Marco Belinelli who had four points on 2-for-10 shooting compared to 19 points on 6-for-10 shooting when these two teams met earlier this month.
 
Coach Brad Stevens pointed to the job Smart did on Belinelli, in addition to the clutch offensive rebound he was able to snag and quickly put back up and in that gave Boston a 103-95 game with about two minutes to play.
 
“He was really good,” Stevens said.
 
The same could be said for most of the Celtics of late.
 
Kyrie Irving is coming off his most efficient game of the season, tallying 30 points on 10-for-12 shooting from the field. Jayson Tatum had a rough start, but he came on strong as well with 14 points – all coming in the second half.
 
But the backbone of Boston’s success lies in what they’re able to get done defensively.
 
So far, Boston’s defense has been as strong as we’ve seen this early, in quite some time.
 
Boston, which has a league-best defensive rating of 95.9, has length, savvy and an overall total buy-in by the players on what Brad Stevens is looking for, from them.
 
Meanwhile, the Mavericks (3-14) are coming off their most impressive victory this season, a 111-79 win over Milwaukee.  Dennis Smith Jr. has been among the more talented rookies this season. He’s averaging 14.5 points, 4.2 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game. Dallas is indeed in a transition period where longtime superstar Dirk Nowitzki (10.3 points, 5.5 rebounds per game) is gradually passing the torch to his younger teammates like Harrison Barnes (18.7 points, 7.1 rebounds) and Smith Jr.
 
Much like the Hawks game, the Celtics must approach this game with a focus on the opponent and not their record.
 
Because the Celtics are no longer just a good team on the schedule. They are a measuring stick for most to see how they stack up against the league’s best.
 
And the Celtics understand how their success has changed how teams see them.
 
“Now that we have a reputation, I think everyone is coming for us,” said Boston’s Jaylen Brown. “Now we have to come play even harder, and I think we can do that. I think we are more than capable.”

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