Krstic and Pavlovic are a good matchup

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / March 21, 2011

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NEW YORK — Nenad Krstic was reading newspapers online, sifting through the rumors as NBA teams were eyeing the market of bought-out players, when Sasha Pavlovic’s name came up.

The Celtics, Krstic’s new team, apparently still were looking for small forwards, and Pavlovic was on their radar. That was interesting to Krstic.

He has known Pavlovic since they were teenagers playing for Yugoslavia in the FIBA Under-20 European championship. They kept in contact when they both went to the NBA. Now, Krstic was in Boston after a deadline trade from Oklahoma City, and speculation was that Pavlovic could be joining him.

He reached for his cellphone.

“He was telling me, ‘Please, man. Do whatever you can to come here,’ ’’ Pavlovic recalled.

“I called him more because he didn’t have a team,’’ Krstic said.

Joining the Celtics was tempting, but Pavlovic had options and he was still weighing them.

“He said there were a couple teams trying to get him,’’ Krstic said.

Pavlovic ended up signing with the Celtics for the rest of the season, giving them depth, but also giving Krstic a familiar face in a new locker room.

“It’s great for me and it’s great for him, too, just to have somebody who speaks your language,’’ said Krstic, who along with Pavlovic will try to help his new team as it faces the Knicks tonight at Madison Square Garden. “We pretty much like the same stuff coming from the same country. It makes life — not just playing basketball — it makes life easier.”

Their closeness is obvious. They live next to each other, they sit next to each other in the locker room. They both have children around the same age.

“Our lives are pretty similar,’’ Krstic said.

Having Pavlovic around helped the rest of the team figure out Krstic’s personality. Kevin Garnett observed the way Krstic opened up once Pavlovic arrived.

“It helps them greatly,’’ said Ray Allen. “This is probably a great time for them because they’ve got each other. I said earlier to them, ‘[You’ve] found each other.’

“It’s like getting drafted with somebody you went to school with. Going to the same team. It’s all the same, because you’ve got somebody you’ve gone through the same stuff with. Any time you’re with someone and you feel like you’ve got a slice of home, that’s what you’re comfortable with. It helps you play better.’’

The Celtics started the season with Turkish center Semih Erden, who not only was by himself in the locker room but also spoke limited English. Like Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Okajima on the Red Sox, Krstic and Pavlovic make each other’s lives easier.

“It’s always nice when someone else can speak your language,’’ said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. “I would have liked to have played with my childhood friend or even a guy I grew up with and know well. It just makes them all more comfortable.’’

Krstic and Pavlovic both played for the Serbia and Montenegro national team in the 2004 Olympics. Krstic went on to become a team captain, helping the squad to fourth place last summer in the FIBA World Championships.

“Back then, we had seven or eight NBA players on the team,’’ Pavlovic recalled of the Olympics. “We pretty much knew each other. We were happy to go there and play in the summertime for the country in the Olympics, especially.’’

But the transition from international basketball to the NBA isn’t an easy one. Krstic remembers having another Serbian player with him early on in his career with New Jersey, but it’s rare, which is why he appreciates having Pavlovic around.

“It’s different,’’ Krstic said. “With the national team you have other guys, it’s not just him. Here I only have him from my country and we’re getting closer right now than with the national team.’’

Krstic was drafted by the Nets in 2002, but didn’t come over until 2004. By then, Pavlovic already had played his first full season with the Jazz. Whenever they crossed paths, they would check up on each other, trading notes on their NBA experiences.

“Every time we played against each other, we’d see each other and go to dinner and just talk about everything,’’ Pavlovic said. “It’s good to have somebody here that can help with stuff like that.’’

Being thrown into a championship run with a new team has its challenges — from learning a defense to grasping terminology. Krstic and Pavlovic both say the Celtics’ veteran core makes adjusting easier. But having each other as sounding boards also goes a long way.

“I feel very comfortable that he’s here,’’ Krstic said. “And he’s probably the same way.’’

Julian Benbow can be reached at

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