THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

As usual, Cassell was on the ball - and he was on target

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / June 6, 2008

P.J. Brown isn't going to pretend that what everybody says about Sam Cassell isn't true.

"He wants the ball," Brown said, hardly holding back a chuckle. "The ball and Sam have a great relationship."

Leon Powe says it's one of those obsessive relationships.

"Sam and the ball?" he said. "You know how it is when you get married like three, four times? He won't let that ball go. I'm telling you the truth. That's very true."

If Cassell is on the court and the ball is in his hands, you can almost guarantee he's going to be the last person touching it.

But sometimes, as Brown will tell you, it's not such a bad thing.

Cassell gave the Celtics 8 points off the bench last night in their 98-88 victory over the Lakers in Game 1 of the NBA Finals at TD Banknorth Garden.

He played 13 minutes.

He heaved up nine shots.

By halftime, Kobe Bryant had put up more shots than anybody else - 10.

Cassell put up almost as many shots in not even half as many minutes.

Cassell is to the bench what Bryant is to everybody else.

"I'd agree with that," Brown said.

But he'll also point out that a lot of times, Cassell's shots are lethal.

"I've played against Sam for a lot of years," Brown said. "And he can be deadly. He can hurt you with that basketball. And most of the time he takes a shot, it looks good."

Of course, Brown will admit there are some things you must get used to when you're on the court with Cassell.

For one, the fact that he's going to call for the ball on almost every possession.

But you deal with it. Because every so often, there are moments like the one in the fourth quarter when Brown scooped up a loose ball and heard Cassell's voice before he could even set himself.

"[Kevin Garnett] made a great hustle play," Brown said, "And I just went for it and grabbed it. Soon as I got it, I heard Sam yell, 'P.J.! P.J.!' I just gave it to him as soon as I could. That was a big emotional play; you could feel the momentum shift after that play."

Cassell hit the shot. The Celtics went up by 5 and never looked back.

"Every once in a while, you say, 'Hey, Sammy, kind of let that thing go, or pass it,' " Brown said. "But Sam, that's what he's here for. He's here to put the ball in the basket and he likes the pressure situation, and I'm glad I'm on his side."

There was a juncture in the second quarter when Lakers point guard Derek Fisher was bullying Rajon Rondo. Cassell came off the bench, pulled up from 21 feet, and gave the Celtics a 27-24 lead.

Rondo is easily the Celtics' best floor general, but having a scorer like Cassell to answer a player like Fisher is crucial.

"I think it's a great matchup," Brown said. "I think Sam's going to be able to offset a lot of D-Fish's offense if he continues to put that pressure on him like he did. When Sam goes to that post and Fish is trying to be aggressive offensively, Sam puts a lot of pressure on him to make him go on the other end and put him on the post and make him play a little D."

Powe said you know what you're getting with Cassell.

"Sam, he's going to score," Powe said. "He's going to post you up. If you don't like it, hey, you've got to deal with it. But Sam is going to score. He's going to try to get everybody involved a little bit, but most likely, he's going to try to score."

And if Brown again finds himself under the basket, and he hears a voice yelling his name, he knows where he'll throw the ball.

"I told Sam, whenever I get it, I'm going to look for him," Brown said. "He can have it."

Julian Benbow can be reached at jbenbow@globe.com.

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