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"It would be impossible," says Ainge. "The game is different. Players are different."
But doesn't Garnett, in his legendary intensity, compare to Bird?
"They're completely different," says Ainge. "KG is more of a sentimental guy, more feeling, kinder. Larry was not kind. Larry was grouchy. That's how he was born, that's how he competed. He would bust everybody's chops, get angry and frustrated.
"But here's what KG is like: We're in training camp in Rome [last October], and I see him in the weight room. Then he goes to practice, works his butt off and gets his shots up after practice. Then, for the next 45 minutes, KG is running around the gym rebounding for [point guard] Rajon Rondo. Let me tell you something: In a million years Larry Bird would never do that. He might make me rebound for him, but not the other way around. KG is focused and intense like Larry, but he really cares about the feelings of his teammates, cares that he's perceived as almost the team mother."
Ainge is rolling now.
"As for Paul, he's a very determined player, like Larry, but he reminds me of DJ. Like DJ, Paul can get a little salty. He's up and down moodwise. And on the court he's kind of an energy conserver. He doesn't play all out all the time. That used to drive me nuts about DJ because I was the other guard and I'd think, This guy is so gifted. What's he doing coasting? But then, like with DJ, Paul has stretches that are unbelievably special. You need something to happen, whatever it is—a blocked shot, winning a jump ball, a steal, a rebound, a pass, a shot—and Paul supplies it. That's how DJ was.
"As for Ray, he is just an amazing basketball player. We didn't have anybody as cool and poised and who could shoot the ball like him."
Is there anybody like you? Rondo, perhaps, somewhat the helter-skelter guard? Cassell, the chattering, in-everybody's-face veteran?
"No," says Ainge, "nobody matches."
It's easier to compare the current Celtics with the franchise's 1974 and '76 championship teams: KG is Dave Cowens, a relentless, take-no-prisoners, two-way board banger with an outside touch. Pierce is a better offensive version of Havlicek (though not as good all-around). Allen is White in his silky smoothness. Even Boston's earliest NBA champions of the late '50s and early '60s are a better fit: Garnett is Russell. Pierce is Heinsohn, cocky and offensive-minded. Allen is Sharman, fluid and fundamental, drop-dead accurate from the free throw line. Kendrick Perkins is Jim Loscutoff, the basher, the enforcer. (Rondo, however, is not Cousy.)