BOSTON - Dave Cowens helped the Celtics win two NBA championships in the 1970s and last night, as an assistant coach with the Detroit Pistons, he got to see this year's Celtics up close.
How would these Celtics fare against Cowens' championship teams?
"We'd kick their (butts)," Cowens said with a laugh.
"Who would guard me?" Cowens asked.
Told that the bigger Kendrick Perkins would kick the stuffing out of him under the boards, Cowens replied, "If he could catch me."
Saunders lavishes praise on KG
Pistons coach Flip Saunders said Kevin Garnett plays the same way he did while he coached him during his first 9-1/2 NBA seasons in Minnesota.
"He still plays with the same passion he always played," Saunders said. "He's still very unselfish, energetic. The passion, he draws it out of his teammates. He plays at such a high energy level, as a teammate you're almost forced to play the same way or else you feel bad."
When Garnett played for Saunders, he did everything he could to psych himself up before games.
"I don't know if he's still doing it," Saunders said, "he used to always have two cups of coffee, a Red Bull, a couple Gatorades, a Mountain Dew or whatever before the game. He'd get in the huddle and his hands would be shaking. That's how he's always been. He wants it so bad, he builds himself up into a lather."
Saunders remembers when Garnett signed his big first contract.
"People said we were crazy for paying him that," Saunders said. "I said, `You know what? What he gives to the team on a daily basis and in practice, what he gives every time he steps on the floor, he's underpaid, he's not overpaid.' That was nine years ago.
"As I told Doc, everyone should have an opportunity to coach a guy like him because he's so unselfish."
Saunders echoes what everyone else has said - that Garnett's defensive intensity has spread to his teammates.
"I've never seen Paul (Pierce) play defense the way he's played the last two or three weeks,"Saunders said. "He's been moving his feet. He's always been the guy who gets steals, but he's never been a guy that you say one-on-one really goes after it. He's been so aggressive and moving laterally. That's one of the reasons they've having the success they're having."
Saunders wasn't thrilled when he found out that Garnett was traded to the Eastern Conference and he'd have to coach against him more often.
"I knew they'd be good," Saunders said of the Celtics. "No one anticipated that they would be at where they are now."
Regular season tilt no big deal
Rivers refused to label last night's game against the Pistons as a measuring stick.
"They're obviously to me the class of the East the last couple of years," Rivers said, "but it's Dec. 19. For them, it clearly isn't. I think Detroit has had bigger games in their last four or five years than they're going to have on Dec. 19."
Rivers said the only big December basketball game he could remember playing in or coaching in was losing a high school Christmas tournament title game in Chicago to Isiah Thomas' team.
"That was big," Rivers said. "I still remember it to this day."
As far as the NBA goes, Rivers won't consider any game big until the postseason.
"When you get to the playoffs, then you do," Rivers said. "When you leave and if you're the team that's happy, then you can measure that."
Big or not, Rivers and Saunders both said their teams were pumped up more than usual for last night's game.
Rivers slightly bugged by mikes
Because of ESPN coverage, the starting times of last night's game and tomorrow night's against Chicago were moved up a half hour to 7 p.m. Rivers used to analyze NBA games for TNT, but he still wasn't thrilled about ESPN attaching a microphone to him and placing one in the Celticslocker room last night.
"I'm not worried about the cursing," Rivers said, "I'm worried about the talking in the locker room. You do like some privacy."
Rivers said he'd put up with the microphones as long as they helped ESPN draw higher ratings and provide greater exposure for the NBA.