Sometimes, Classics Go the Wrong Way

A Daily Babble Production

It might have been a bit hard to appreciate it amidst the haze of finding a series that sat tantalizingly close to 3-1 in the green's favor suddenly tied at two games apiece, but the Celtics and Bulls played a great game on Sunday afternoon in Chicago.

Yesterday's double-overtime thriller at the United Center epitomized what playoff basketball is all about. 

It wasn't perfect basketball because the players are humans rather than robots.  We saw pressure and unkind iron get to several of the most important performers, especially at the foul line.  This offered us the chance to see those players and their teams recover from those mistakes.  Twice, great free-throw shooters missed freebies in the final two minutes of regulation or overtime and then came back to hit game-tying three-pointers in the period's final 10 seconds.

Two fine young point guards put on yet another display of offensive dominance.  One notched his second triple-double of the week.  The other fell an assist short of posting his first in just the fourth playoff game of his career.

Coaches stuck to their big guns and relied on short benches.  Two players went more than 50 minutes, and two more eclipsed the 48 that marks the length of a regulation game. 

The requisite fireworks that come between two teams battling tooth and nail every time out materialized in the fourth quarter when the Infuriated Infant and Brad Miller got into it.

Fans paid to see what usually amounts to a two-and-a-half-hour sporting event got something closer to three and a half hours.  Those watching from home got the joy of the finest national broadcast team around in Mike Breen, Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson.  Just imagine spending more than an eighth of your day with a couple of Disney or Turner's other broadcasting teams.  This was a blessing.

A three-pointer sent the game to overtime.  Another three-pointer sent the game to double-overtime.  A great defensive play prevented yet another trey from sending the game to a third extra session.

The United Center crowd remained on its feet for a long time as it witnessed a mesmerizing seesaw of momentum during the second half.  Watching from my living room, I covered more ground pacing a five-foot radius than I do when I go out for my daily run.  Of the fellows that got their workouts on the court, not a single one left without looking like he hadn't put everything he had on the floor. 

In every game featuring a winner, someone also has to go home a loser.  It never feels good to be on that side of the scoreboard.

But that doesn't make yesterday's contest any less incredible of a game, the third (and most exciting) of its kind in the four that have taken place in this series.  Hats off to the Chicago Bulls for pulling it out.

Musings from the second pulse-pounding extra-session(s) loss of this first round series:

  • Rajon Rondo is playing at an insane level of offensive basketball right now.  But as my buddy Lee mentioned after the game, perhaps the most enjoyable of all Raj's work yesterday was his sprinting to the baseline to save the ball off John Salmons and out of bounds after Ray Allen's missed free throw.  He's finishing all kinds of shots around the rim, pushing the offense in transition and grabbing caroms like a man who stands 6-foot-11 rather than 6-foot-1.  Still playing on a bum ankle, he led all participants with 55 minutes logged and still only gave the ball away once.  The national coming-out party continues.
  • My only R2 complaint on offense: The ill-advised dribble-dribble-dribble-jumper possession on the final set of the first overtime.  That's not the shot the Celtics want in that spot.
  • On the other side, Derrick Rose didn't play like any slouch either.  While he needs to do a better job taking care of the ball (seven turnovers), the man attacks the rim like a freight train.  Count me curious to see whether the Celtics continue to switch screen-and-rolls against him and allow Rose to isolate against big men.
  • The Celtics shot 28-for-32 from the charity stripe.  That's 87.5 percent, well better than the  18th-ranked 76.5 percent figure during the regular season.  And the Raptors' first-ranked 82.4 percent mark.  Paul Pierce, who shot 83 percent for the season (and who shoots 79.8 percent for his career), went 8-for-9 at the line.  The timing of that one miss was horrific, no doubt, but considering how player and team shot from the line as a whole (and that the Bulls went 26-for-35), I'm not going to pound anyone over the head with the idea that this team blew the game from the foul line.
  • John Salmons made exactly two field-goals during regulation.  That's largely a credit to the strangling defense played on him by Paul Pierce through much of the first four periods.  That Salmons heated up after Vinny Del Negro went small and moved him to the four (forcing the Celtics to move Pierce to Kirk Hinrich and Brian Scalabrine to Salmons) wasn't a coincidence.
  • Pierce turned the ball over three times in the final two minutes of regulation and beyond and had the final shot of the game blocked by John Salmons (credit Salmons for a great albeit risky play).  This was disgusting.  His shooting from the field could have been better, too.  Pierce's play left room for improvement in several areas.  Not found on that list: effort.
  • Another couple of huge shots for Ben Gordon.  Though Tony Allen wound up way behind him on a screen late in regulation, he made up enough ground to combine with Glen Davis to make Gordon's running bank shot far from easy.  His three to tie the game in the final seconds of overtime came contested as well.  In the future, on plays like the Gordon runner, it would be great if the Infant could slide to the spot a bit more quickly and seal off Gordon from attacking with his right hand.
  • Kendrick Perkins committed three offensive fouls (two in the fourth quarter) and a loose ball foul 80-plus feet from the opposing basket before fouling out in regulation.  This is not good.
  • It's tougher than ever to get upset with the Pugnacious Papoose considering how far he has come this season, but he was a disaster around the rim yesterday.  He had a fine stretch in the fourth quarter that featured a great dish to Rondo, a made jumper and a drawn charge, and he made a great play to tip the ball out to Paul Pierce for the three that brought the Celts to within one in the second overtime.  It's good to see him making contributions when his shot isn't falling.  But that doesn't make the missed bunnies any less frustrating on this particular day.
  • Three blocks for each member of the Bulls' starting frontcourt of Salmons, Tyrus Thomas and Joakim Noah.  Double-doubles for Thomas and Noah as well.  They are continuing to cause problems on the interior.
  • I have no problem with not fouling at the end of the first overtime.  Though it wasn't the case yesterday, the Bulls shot better than the Celtics from the free throw line all season and have been better throughout this series.  A good three-point shooter makes four out of 10 from beyond the arc, and the percentage shouldn't be that good when the defensive team knows that the offense needs a three.  Whether or not Pierce was a half-step slow in chasing Gordon, he still forced him to make a difficult shot, and Gordon did just that.  Good on the shooter.  I'm not going after Doc Rivers for this one.
  • If Doc weren't so busy coaching the defending champions, he could probably make a full-time salary elsewhere just for his ability to draw up late-game offensive sets out of timeouts.  The Celtics got Ray Allen a great look to tie the game in regulation.  Though he didn't hit the shot with the Celtics down four in overtime, Doc drew up a play that used screens to free Ray in the right corner to receive an inbounds pass from the left hash mark.  The design and execution were perfect right up until Allen bricked the shot.  That happens sometimes.  But it's far from the first time we've seen the Celts get a great look in a waning-seconds spot this season, particularly from the perimeter.  Several have resulted in baskets.
  • Kirk Hinrich works hard at the defensive end.  Really hard.  He has impressed me all series.
  • Loved seeing Scal hit a three to open overtime.  It would have been that much nicer to see a big shot like that come in a win.  Next time, perhaps.
  • At some point, the redhead hammered a Chicago big man under the basket on a late rotation, and I remember thinking to myself, "That's a P.J. Brown foul right there."  The defensive movement wasn't perfect, but Scal made absolutely sure that his man earned his points at the foul line without any chance at finishing a lay-up uncontested.
  • Much as I enjoyed the broadcast crew, I can't resist ending with a memo from the Department of Things Mark Jackson Actually Said On Air: After a made three-pointer, Jax used the phrase "Brad Miller doing what he does best" to narrate the replay of the center hitting the shot.  Impressive that the big man has made it through 11 seasons in this league given that shooting 32.9 percent from the three-point line is his area of expertise.
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