Sam I Am Holds Court

Just got back from Waltham where the Celtics went through a two-hour-plus practice getting ready for Game 1 against the Hawks, Sunday night. Kevin Garnett was absent for the second day in a row with what Doc Rivers called personal reasons. It was reported yesterday that his wife had gone into labor with their first child. Doc wouldn’t go into specifics, but he basically intimated that everything was fine.

After the long practice session, the press had a chance to talk with Sam Cassell, who has a well-deserved rep as a great talker, something that he gets teased about constantly. Talking to Cassell is a treat for NBA scribes because he genuinely loves talking about the league and the game. After the jump, some of the Sam conversation.

Asked if he remembered his first playoff game, way back in 1994, Cassell didn’t hesitate. “I was horrible,” he said. “I was nervous. I played terrible. By Game 2 (against Portland) I was fine, and the rest of my playoff career I was fine.”

That was Cassell’s rookie season with the Rockets, and Houston went on to win that series despite the best efforts of Rod Strickland, who Cassell spoke about in glowing terms. The Rockets then captured the first of two titles.

“All I had to do was get the ball up court and pass it to Hakeem [Olajuwon], and make a couple of jump shots.”

“I thought this was the way it was always going to be,” Cassell said of winning championships his first two years in the NBA. “I was awakened real quick. Any time you win, it don’t come easy.”

Someone then asked if this Celtics team was the most talented he had been on. Sammy thought about it for a few seconds and said, “One through 12. Yes.”

On Kendrick Perkins:

“We don’t have that dominant center, but Kendrick Perkins, he’s the perfect center for this team because he doesn’t demand the ball and he enjoys his role: rebounding and blocking shots.”

On his Game 6 performance in the 2001 Eastern Conference semifinals with Milwaukee against Charlotte when he scored a playoff career-high 33 points and helped the Bucks stave off elimination:

“We were down 14 points. We basically stole that game. You can ask PJ Brown [then with the Hornets], he’s probably still kicking himself in the ass for not winning that game. Then we went back to Milwaukee and we knew they weren’t going to win in Milwaukee.”

There’s been a lot made all year about the Celtics’ team chemistry, which is an often overused cliche in pro sports. So, I asked him about it.

“It’s not over-exaggerated. It’s not overblown. It is what it is. It’s a great group of guys who respect each other for what everybody can do on the basketball court. That’s all it is. That’s the sign of a good basketball team. A championship team. No one’s too big to be checked on this team. Coaches. Players. That’s the sign of a good organization.”

It should be noted that Sammy said this a few minutes after Paul Pierce good-naturedly dropped a towel on his head and busted his chops for talking to us for so long.