WALTHAM - Sam Cassell is never shy when it comes to shooting the ball. He's the same way with his opinions.
Cassell, who broke into the league during the rough-and-tumble mid-1990s, said the NBA is protecting Cavaliers star LeBron James in a way it never did with Michael Jordan.
Cassell was assessed a flagrant-1 foul during the second quarter of Boston's 76-72 victory over Cleveland Tuesday night, when he stopped James on a fast break.
"Wow. It's just different right now," said Cassell yesterday following practice "They gave me a flagrant-1 foul, and no way in the world was it a flagrant-1 foul. I'm going to call [NBA vice president] Stu [ Jackson] and see what he thinks about that. That's not a flagrant-1 foul at all. Back in the day, a flagrant-1 was bloodshed. Now, you can just grab somebody . . . It's the new NBA."
Cassell added, "I know Michael Jordan is sitting at home right now pouting because they didn't protect him. There wasn't no bigger star than him, and he took some banging. But he got through it. That's why he got considered the best player to pick up a basketball."
The Cavaliers did get a measure of payback late in the game, when center Zydrunas Ilgauskas elbowed Cassell after he came up with a key defensive rebound with 52.8 seconds left.
"[The referees] said it was inadvertent. He didn't mean to do that. It happens. It's part of the game," said Cassell. "I wish the game was more physical like that every play. I can cope with that instead of some of the flagrants they call now."
Williams suspendedOne person who might agree with Cassell is Hawks forward Marvin Williams. The league announced yesterday that Williams will be suspended without pay for the first game of the 2008-09 season for his flagrant-2 foul on Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo in Game 7 of the first-round playoff series.
Williams, who was ejected for the foul, clotheslined Rondo on a breakout with 9:09 remaining in the third quarter of the Celtics' 99-65 victory last Sunday at TD Banknorth Garden. The suspension was announced after practice, but Rondo said Monday that he didn't think it was the hardest foul he'd ever absorbed.
"I've been hit harder on unexpected picks," he said. "Those hurt more, I think. I braced myself a little bit, but it's part of the game."
Perked upBefore the Celtics-Cavaliers series, Cleveland coach Mike Brown expressed concern about the shot-blocking of Kevin Garnett and Kendrick Perkins.
Perkins asserted himself on the defensive end in Game 1, finishing with a pair of blocks and 10 rebounds (12 rebounds overall), while chipping in 7 points.
Captain Paul Pierce said Perkins is the key to the Celtics defense.
"He's been great," said Pierce. "He's grown tremendously over the years. I don't know if the [All-NBA] defensive teams have come out yet, but if Kendrick is not on it then I'll be totally surprised. KG is the Defensive Player of the Year, but he has somebody on the side of him to help him, too."
Finishing touchAfter coming up huge in the fourth quarter of Game 1, Cassell said he was still adjusting to being a backup. One of the biggest changes has been not finishing games. That's why Cassell, who had 10 of his 13 points in the final quarter, was glad to be on the floor to help the Celtics close out the Cavaliers.
"That's what I'm used to," he said. "Rondo is playing well for us and is still playing well. I just made a couple shots in the fourth quarter. I'm his biggest cheerleader, and he's my biggest cheerleader. When he's playing, I'm not sitting on the sideline saying, 'I hope he does bad so I can get in the game.' I know he doesn't feel [negative] when I'm doing what I'm doing on the court. We just pull for one another."
Taking it personalPierce feels he has been the victim of some foul play in the playoffs. He picked up two quick personals in the first quarter of Game 1, and is averaging 3.5 fouls a game in the playoffs, a foul per game more than during the regular season.
"Man, fouls have been a factor for me since the playoffs started," said Pierce, who fouled out of one game against the Hawks and had five fouls in two others. "I think I've been a victim of some calls that can go either way, and unfortunately they haven't been going my way. I'm not usually a player who goes out and is always in foul trouble, but it just seems like since the playoffs started they're calling things a little bit tighter, and I have to make the adjustment."
Zero memoryRay Allen, who went scoreless in 37 minutes Tuesday night, said he has no recollection of the only other time he finished with no points, which came during his rookie season with the Milwaukee Bucks. Allen had no points in 23 minutes during a 79-72 loss to the Hawks Feb. 26, 1997. "I honestly don't remember. It was 12 years ago. It doesn't even register," said Allen . . . Coach Doc Rivers said James Posey didn't practice yesterday because of a right hip injury and rib injury, but is expected to play tonight in Game 2 . . . Pierce thinks one of the problems he had in Game 1 was that he was too hyped up to play. He said sometimes looking at the video montage the Celtics put together for pregame introductions "makes you feel like you drank 10 Red Bulls."
Keeping the faithWhen James vowed that he would bounce back from his 12-point, 10-turnover performance in Game 1, Brown was inclined to believe him. "Why do I think that? Because he is who he is. He's human," Brown said. "He had a tough night, but he hasn't had many tough nights in a row. Usually when he has a tough night he bounces back the next game and has a pretty good game." . . . The Cavaliers shot 30.7 percent (23 of 75) in Game 1. Was it a function of going against the top-ranked defense in the NBA or poor shot selection? "You've got to give a lot of credit to Boston because that's what they do. They've been a great defensive team all year," Brown said. "But there's some things we can do better to, hopefully, increase that percentage." Among them: better spacing. "Too many times the ball came to a standstill," Brown said. "We have some basic rules and concepts that we've given our guys when it comes to spacing the floor, so our spacing was not great." . . . As for Cleveland's 17 turnovers? "I can't say that all of our turnovers were because of their defense and I definitely can't say that all of our turnovers was because us fumbling it away and being sloppy with the ball," said Brown . . . Although the Garden crowd loudly registered its disapproval of the flagrant foul called against Cassell in the second quarter, Brown felt it was warranted. Replays showed James might have sold the foul when he snapped his head back after drawing contact from Cassell and came up holding his mouth. "Again, I'm not a referee because I thought he was fouled on the drive that wasn't called at the end of the game, when Kendrick bumped him," Brown said. "Again, they just have to make the calls out on the floor and we just have to live with them."
Michael Vega and Marc J. Spears of the Globe staff contributed to this report.