Cassell Playing Some D


Cassell Playing Some D

Here's a bell-ringer, as they used to call big, big stories a long time ago, just before Sam Cassell broke into the NBA: The newest Celtic has twice as many blocked shots as 3-point field goals - and six times as many steals.

Is it too late to start the campaign for Defensive Player of the Year?

"I'm trying, I really am," Cassell said yesterday, when asked about his defense, generally not one of his strong points. "I'm getting steals and everything."

Then he laughed. He probably gets asked about his defense as much as he does about his choice of hair care products.

Anyone with a casual knowledge of the NBA knows why Cassell is in Boston - and it's not to be a stopper. He's here to make big plays, make big shots, and mentor Rajon Rondo, all of which he's happy to do.

But as long as he's here - and, believe it or not, yesterday was his first practice as a member of the Celtics - he might as well drink Tom Thibodeau's Kool-Aid, which the assistant coach has been dispensing to willing and eager swallowers since October. It's all about the defense.

Maybe that explains Cassell's six steals in eight games. Or his two blocked shots. His only 3-pointer was a big one, the game-changer against the Spurs. He has missed his other seven attempts from international waters and is shooting just 34.5 percent since donning the green and white.

His offense will come. But shortly after Cassell signed with the Celtics, there were whispers about his lack of defensive ability. Flip Saunders, who coached Cassell in Minnesota, joked that the team needed to play a zone when Cassell was in the game because he didn't do the pick-and-roll especially well, if at all.

But when you sign on with a team that has been as defensively tuned in as this season's Celtics, you have to at least be willing to try. Ergo, Sam the defender.

"We talked to him about it before we signed him," coach Doc Rivers said. "And you know what? He really has been into it. He's been good.

"In the Dallas game, we kept him on the floor because the defensive flow of the game was great with Sam in.

"Look, Sam wants to win. That's the bottom line. And when guys want to win, they'll let go of some of those old habits to try to win. That's where Sam is at right now. Plus, he also knows he's not going to play 40 minutes a night, so the minutes he does play, he can use to apply on the defensive end."

The attention to defense is just one of the many ways Cassell is trying to fit in with his new team. Yesterday marked his three-week anniversary as a member of the Celtics. He has participated in eight games since making his Boston debut March 10. Rivers said yesterday that Cassell might know three of Boston's set plays ("I know all of 'em," Cassell protested) and that practices like yesterday's and those to come mainly will be for his benefit and P.J. Brown's.

That's fine with Cassell. He's still in adjustment mode, and, with 12 games left, he knows why he's here - and it isn't to win games against lottery teams in April. It's to win playoff games in May and June. So he can live with the poor shooting for now.

"Doc told me, 'Just get comfortable, play your game,"' Cassell said. "He feels I'm passing up shots I normally take. But when you come to a team that's 30 games over .500, you just can't all of a sudden start doing your own thing. You've got to get in where you fit in. So sometimes I find myself taking a step back.

"But I can't complain. I played well in San Antonio when the team needed me to play well. And that's what it's going to take.

"It's going to come. I'm not worried about me playing well, because when it's time for me to showcase what I can be for this team, it will be handled. It hasn't been a struggle. I'm just not at my comfort zone yet."

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