BOSTON -- The immediate meaning of the Celtics' bout with the Heat on Tuesday might not have been crystal clear. Paul Pierce returned to action, but he was not joined by Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo or Ray Allen, which immediately categorized the game as a near-meaningless, end-of-the-season, grind-it-out affair.
But the Celtics knew that home-court advantage in the first round of the postseason against the Atlanta Hawks was still on the line, as was a resurgence in rhythm and confidence for a host of reserve players -- players who might not have made an overwhelming impact throughout the regular season, but who have the potential to make a game-changing play or even a game-winning shot at some point in the postseason.
So for the likes of Sasha Pavlovic, Marquis Daniels, Keyon Dooling and E'Twaun Moore, it was all the more rewarding that they were the ones to turn the tide in Boston's favor and help the Celtics turn an ugly, disjointed struggle into an important 78-66 victory.
Pavlovic finished with a game-high 16 points, overcoming some first-half struggles. Moore chipped in seven points and seven rebounds playing the backup point guard spot, and Daniels added 13 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists.
"These games are still important," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "We pretty much know our rotation, but someone else is always going to help you in the playoffs, and games like this can give you confidence. That was huge for Sasha, especially in the fact that Sasha really struggled in the first half, and then he came in the second half and played terrific. I thought for E'Twaun, just playing that amount of minutes at the point guard position was good for him.
"Every year someone who plays a little bit comes in in the playoffs and has a big game for you. Marquis, again, so all those guys, I thought the game was very important for."
Pavlovic played less than seven minutes in the first half, missing both of his field goal attempts, but rallied in the final quarter, scoring 12 of his 16 points on 5-of-6 shooting, including a pair of 3-point daggers from the left wing that helped stretch Boston's lead for good.
"I just had open shots and I took them without thinking at all, and it's a good thing they went in," Pavlovic said.
Meanwhile, Daniels was one of Boston's only consistent producers for the entirety of the game. While his teammates struggled mightily to score, Daniels produced a first-half high of eight points to go with five rebounds, and added five points and three assists in the finale quarter, including a steal at half court and a breakaway dunk with just more than nine minutes remaining that gave the Celtics their first fourth-quarter lead at 54-52.
"I'm just trying to make sure I'm ready when my number's called," Daniels said, when asked about his productive night. "Staying after late, getting a workout in, coming in early, getting a workout in. Just taking advantage of the time that I get."
Rivers said Pavlovic, Daniels, Moore and Dooling all fall into "that bowl of guys" who have the potential to make a significant impact come playoff time. Dooling, who finished with 7 points on 3-of-5 shooting despite being hit with an unintentional James Jones elbow and sustaining a cut under his right eye, acknowledged the need for guys in Rivers' imaginary bowl to remain ready throughout the postseason.
"Every game is important, if not for seeding, for self-confidence," said Dooling, sporting a hefty bandage beneath his right eye after sustaining a cut in the second quarter. "We don't know who will be in the rotation, but these games are good for us because in the playoffs, they take away from the first three options, and so there's going to be opportunities for a lot of guys who may be the fourth or fifth option to step up.
"Whether it's Sasha, whether it's me, whether it's [Mickael Pietrus], we don't know who it'll be. On any given night it could be somebody different. But we know we possess the tools to be able to be successful."