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Celtics ready to make sacrifices to defend title

By Rob Peterson, NBA.com
Posted Oct 28 2008 2:17PM

NEW YORK -- Last Tuesday, Celtics guard Sam Cassell had wedged himself into a corner of Madison Square Garden's tiny visitor's locker room. As he tried to put on his socks, the conversation turned toward the talk of the Celtics repeating as NBA champs. Someone reminded Cassell he's the only current Celtic to have ever played for a back-to-back champion, the Rockets' teams of the mid-1990s. Then he was asked how difficult it is to repeat and if this edition of the Celtics could do it.

Cassell looked down and continued to dress for a game in which he would not appear, the eighth such game this preseason. He hesitated.

As if he were stunned by the thought of the enormity of the task at hand, the usually loquacious Cassell didn't have much to say.

"Only time will tell," Cassell said. "To repeat it's about understanding what's at stake, each and every night, the regular season and the playoffs."

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Well, what's at stake?

"Everything. It's all about sacrificing. If you think you sacrificed last year to win a championship, you need to sacrifice even more."

If anyone on the Celtics knows the price paid to defend a title, it's Cassell. After playing a key role off the bench to help the Houston Rockets clinch their first title in seven games against the New York Knicks in 1994, Cassell and the Rockets started the 1995 Playoffs as the West's sixth seed and never had homecourt advantage as they beat Utah in five games, stunned Phoenix in seven and "bamboozled" San Antonio in six, as Hakeem Olajuwon destroyed reigning NBA MVP David Robinson. Only The Finals came easily as the Rockets swept away Shaquille O'Neal and the Magic to complete the grueling back-to-back titles.

To a man, the Celtics say they are primed for Ubuntu II: The Repeat, the rare sequel that's as good as the first. Paul Pierce reported to camp in spectacular shape. Ray Allen noted this season's training camp has been more efficient than last season's.

"We feel like we've picked up where we've left off," Allen said. "For the most part, we've been clicking like we clicked last year.

And last year was good, not only for the title, but for the Celtics' approach to winning one.

"It's hard to disagree with anything we did last year," Allen said. "Even though we think, 'I can do this a little bit better,' [or] 'I can do that a little bit better,' we got to a point last year where we did better by doing less, a lot of us.

"It's not like we're coming in this year looking for more shots. How we play is how we play. We want to be more efficient. We want to get better on both ends of the floor. It's going to be tough to equal what we did last year, but we're going to be up to the challenge."

And then there's Kevin Garnett, who didn't meet the press last Tuesday, but wore a pre-game path between the sanctuaries of the trainer's room and the restroom, which was right next to his locker. On his occasional forays through the locker room, KG would have made Martha Stewart proud as he took up the task of organizing and cleaning up the various messes others had left in front of his locker.

He asked no one in particular who left a jump rope smack in the middle of the locker room. He then wrapped it up and put it away. He straightened and moved a pair of someone else's shoes haphazardly left in his path. Finally, he cleared away an overturned calf stretcher. By the time he made a cameo at his locker just as the press left, all was right and tidy in that corner of the world.

RELATED LINKS

Peterson: Less is more for Celtics' Pierce
Peterson: Ring ceremony a well-deserved 'distraction'
PHOTOS: Celtics' 1981 ring ceremony
PHOTOS: Celtics' 1984 ring ceremony
Celtics Q&As: Doc Rivers | Kevin Garnett
BILL RUSSELL: Can the Celtics repeat?
2008-09 Celtics season preview | All teams
• VIDEO: NBA TV's Cavs-Celtics game preview
VIDEO: NBA TV's Real Training Camp joins Celtics
VIDEO: SI Previews: Celtics

Considering there will be numerous obstacles in the quest to nab Boston's 18th title, KG's meticulous and organized nature shall serve the Celtics well in the locker room and on the court. Who better to make sure defensive rotations occur, that assignments are carried out and big plays are made? Who better to organize the Celtics' title defense than the reigning Defensive Player of the Year?

Boston general manager Danny Ainge, a two-time champ with Boston in the mid-1980s, sees some similarities between those great '80s teams and the current edition with KG, Allen and Pierce.

"Talent," Ainge noted when asked the biggest similarity. "Confidence. We have a lot of good players."

Those good players have been tested.

"I think last year in the regular season there was a lot of hype wherever we went," Ainge said. "We beat good teams in our own building then we'd go on the road and win tough back-to-back games.

"And we rose to the occasion in the regular season, and we rose to the occasion in the playoffs. This team has a great chemistry and a great intensity about it. I'm not worried about motivation."

The Celtics haven't won back-to-back titles since a beating the Lakers in seven games of the 1969 Finals. But Pierce welcomes the challenge to add to the Celtics' storied history.

"The confidence has grown from winning a championship," Pierce said. "The guys love that feeling. For us to do it again would be a hell of an accomplishment because a Celtics team hasn't done it in 40 years."

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