Sam Cassell was asked what it would mean to the Celtics in the postseason if he and fellow point guard Rajon Rondo played consistently as well as they did in last night's 102-86 victory over Milwaukee. His reply? "Championship."
Rondo had a double-double with 16 points (8-of-12 shooting), 10 assists, and 5 rebounds in 23 minutes in front of a sellout crowd at TD Banknorth Garden. Cassell added 10 points (5-of-10 shooting), 4 rebounds, and 4 assists in 17 minutes. Since Cassell's arrival March 4, last night's contest was probably the best combined game he and Rondo have had as a point guard duo.
"I know what he's going to do and I think he knows what I'm going to do," Cassell said. "I'm just going to get my rhythm the next couple of games and be Sam Cassell out there. I was trying to fit in when I just got here and now [coach] Doc [Rivers] is telling me to 'just be yourself.' "
Said Rivers: "They both were very good and efficient. Rondo came out and was attacking early. Just great basketball decisions, which is what we want him to do every night. And I thought Sam kept the second unit together. I was really surprised how sharp he was with all the time he missed. Great efforts from both."
Rondo, who wasn't available for comment, and Cassell (back spasms) both returned to action last night.
Rondo was hampered by food poisoning during Wednesday's loss at Washington and didn't play in the fourth quarter. Rivers said Rondo actually shouldn't have played that game. Kevin Garnett, who had 12 points and eight rebounds, was surprised Rondo played last night considering how bad he felt on the plane coming back to Boston late Wednesday night.
"[Rondo's] being Superman," Garnett said. "The extra time for us today not having shootaround [helped]."
Cassell, who missed the previous two games, had no negative effects last night. Cassell, 38, however, said he was able to play against Washington but was told by Rivers to sit. Cassell is averaging 5.6 points, 1.9 assists, and 1.8 rebounds in 16 minutes during 14 contests with Boston and said he began feeling comfortable offensively a week ago.
"With a team like this, I can afford to take a day or two off for the future of the ball club," Cassell said.
The Celtics have won five straight games at home, improved to 34-6 there this season, and won the season series against Milwaukee, 3-0. The Celtics' All-Star trio of Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen combined for 37 points while each played no more than 25 minutes.
The Bucks shot a woeful 38.3 percent from the field, missed 9 of 12 3-pointer attempts, and were down by as many as 25 points.
"There's a reason they've got the best record in the league," Bucks coach Larry Krystkowiak said. "They play together. They play really hard. They've got some hunger on the other side and we had our hands full.
"They're at a time in the season where some teams have shut it down to rest everybody. I think it's pretty impressive even [though key players] are going limited minutes that they're not really upsetting the flow of the game."
For the Celtics, Leon Powe missed the game with a sore right foot and Eddie House was out with a strained right groin. Both are expected to be out tonight at Atlanta. Milwaukee was without four players, including ex-UConn star Charlie Villanueva (strained right hamstring).
"It's definitely a game you want to win," Pierce said about tonight's game against the Hawks, whose magic number is 2 to clinch the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff seed. "You've got a team we've beaten two times already. To go down there and win a third game just to put it in their head that, 'Hey, this is a team we've got to see in the first round and it's not going to be easy. They beat us three times.' You know the psychological effect, especially for a team if you've beaten them three times."
Said Hawks coach Mike Woodson: "They're the best in the East. They're having a phenomenal season."