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Being around Sam Cassell, says his callow Los Angeles Clippers teammate Shaun Livingston, is like being at a never-ending family reunion. "You know those old grandfathers and uncles who have a story for everything?" says Livingston. "That's Sam. Just when I thought I've heard every story, he comes up with another one." � One of the best stories of the Clippers' season has been the cross-generational point guard tandem of Cassell--36, by way of San Jacinto ( Texas) College, Florida State and six NBA teams before the Clippers--and the second-year phenom Livingston, 20, straight out of Peoria (Ill.) Central High. In a must-win Game 4 on Sunday at Staples Center, Cassell laid a near triple double on the Suns (28 points, 11 rebounds, nine assists), while Livingston (11 points, five rebounds, four assists, two blocked shots and zero turnovers) played like a seasoned vet in the Clippers' 114-107 victory. For roughly 27 minutes on Sunday, Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy used Cassell and Livingston together, playing the youngster at the point and the 6'3" veteran at the two, where he frequently schools taller defenders with his inimitable herky-jerky style, which involves pump fakes, quick releases, fadeaways, post-ups and a fair amount of lowbrow opera. After his shot-clock-beating, slingshot three that sealed Game 4, Cassell cantered downcourt, all the while cupping his hands below his groin area to suggest that he has a large set of ... well, let's interpret it this way: I have a willingness to take big shots and the ability to make them. "I've picked up some moves from other players around the league, but that one," he says of his self-loving gesture, "that's all mine."
Given that Cassell and Livingston share a position, one might expect a tutor-tyro bond between the two. There is, however, no such relationship. In fact, it's sometimes easy to forget which player is the vet and which is the youngster, and not just because Livingston is already an accomplished defender while Cassell, for all his wiles, can't guard a traffic pylon. The Clips drafted Livingston not only for his raw talent but also for his maturity and his high basketball IQ. Early in the second quarter of Game 4, Clippers forward Corey Maggette went up for a shot but, seeing that he couldn't get it off under pressure, dropped the ball. Livingston had the presence of mind to scoop it up, avoid a violation and nail a three-pointer that just beat the shot clock.
Then there are the stylistic differences. Livingston is about as likely to adapt Cassell's carefree, occasionally reckless game as he is to trade in his braids for Cassell's bald pate. "What Sam does is kind of hard to duplicate," says Livingston. "It works for him, but it wouldn't necessarily work for me."
What also doesn't always work for some of the Clippers is Cassell's on-court lecturing, which is spontaneous, strident and often profane. On more than one occasion during the first three games of the series, Cassell could be heard yelling, "Damn, Kaman!" at center Chris Kaman. Cassell sees nothing wrong with it. "I yell at them, and it's fine when they yell back at me," he says. "That's what teammates are supposed to do." Power forward Elton Brand, the franchise rock, who plays the role of Henry V to Cassell's rollicking Falstaff, doesn't always agree. "I've told him at times, 'Sam, you have to take it easy, or we're going to lose some of these young guys,'" says Brand.
Kaman cops to being one of those youngsters who is bothered by the harangues. "It gets to me once in a while," he says. "You don't really have time to argue with him on the court if he's wrong. But, the thing is, you always know that he has a good heart and he's a good person and he only wants what's best for the team. So that makes it O.K."
Just as it's O.K. to listen to the Sammy stories, many of which come from his hard-scrabble boyhood in Baltimore. One of his standards has a policeman calling him over and pulling back the cover on a dead body lying on the sidewalk. "If you don't stop hanging out on street corners," Cassell recalls the cop telling him, "this could be you."
Livingston's heard that one. "You can't always tell whether Sam's stories are true," he says. "But it's fun hearing them." Then he smiles slyly. "Most of the time, anyway."
? For the SI playoff blog go to SI.com/nba.