By A. Sherrod Blakely
BOSTON During the Cleveland Cavaliers' run towards the 2007 NBA Finals, much of the credit for that team's success went to LeBron James.
He was, after all, their best player. That's usually how that passing-out-the-praise stuff works.
But if you talk to the man who coached that team, Mike Brown, he'll tell you that one of the newest Boston Celtics -- Sasha Pavlovic -- was among the unsung heroes in Cleveland's success that year.
At 6-foot-7, 235 pounds, Pavlovic is deceptively bigger than most people think.
And his athleticism, much like his size, tends to catch folks off guard as well.
That combination made Pavlovic Cleveland's most valued defender.
On that team, Larry Hughes matched up with the opposing team's starting point guard. That left Pavlovic as the primary defender on the opposing team's shooting guard or small forward - whichever of the two was the better scorer.
"He always took the better of the two wing players," Brown told CSNNE.com. "He took that person most of the whole game. Sasha allowed us, because of his size and length and the way he plays, he allowed us to get away with LeBron getting a, quote-unquote, rest on the defensive end of the floor which was a positive for us."
Pavlovic has only played one game for the Celtics, but it's clear that his defensive skills are already winning over coach Doc Rivers.
In Boston's 89-83 win at Milwaukee on Sunday, Rivers spoke in glowing terms - the kind of praise usually reserved for all-NBA defenders like Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo - about Pavlovic's play defensively.
"He was phenomenal," Rivers said about Pavlovic's defense. "He may have been our best defensive player on the floor against the Bucks. He was unbelievable."
While Rivers agrees that his size and athleticism are often overlooked, Rivers added, "and his heart and toughness. A lot of people from Cleveland were saying, 'He'll fight you all night. He's not going to back up.' We need that at that position, so that was good to see."
Talent has not been an issue with Pavlovic.
Displaying it on a regular basis, more than anything else, was the primary reason he has bounced around the NBA since his days with the Cavaliers.
"He hasn't consistently put everything together," Brown said "And that's why he's bounced in and out of the league at such a young age."
People tend to forget that Pavlovic came to the NBA as a teenager when the Utah Jazz drafted him in the first round of the 2003 NBA draft.
Now in his eighth season, Pavlovic is hopeful that the ups and downs he has experienced will serve as road map towards future success in the NBA.
But first things first.
He must continue to work towards earning minutes with the Celtics.
And the best way to do that is to continue doing what he does best, and that's play defense.
"Like I told you first day, Whatever Coach ask me to do, I'm going to do," Pavlovic told CSNNE.com. "I'm going to try and be as aggressive as I can on defense. Defense is my priority right now."
When you ask Pavlovic about his play and his role with the Celtics, he can't get out a sentence without mentioning the need for him to defend at a high level.
For a team whose foundation is so heavily rooted in strong play at that end of the floor, that's exactly what Rivers wants to hear and the Celtics need to see.
"This team has a lot of talent, a lot of scorers," Pavlovic said. "I can score the ball. I can shoot open shots. I can shoot the ball. But defense is my priority. That's what's going to keep me on the court and that's what's going to help us win games."
And for him, maybe win himself a regular spot in the NBA - possibly with the Celtics.
Brown, an NBA analyst for ESPN, believes Pavlovic is in an ideal situation with the C's.
"Put in the right situation, he can help a team," Brown said. "His experience playing in big playoff games; he's made big shots. He's started for an NBA championship-caliber team, a team that emphasized defense. That's what wins championships in this league. He has a lot of the intangibles that you need coming off the bench, to win a championship in this league. It's just a matter of him being in the right situation, and putting it all together."