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Finally Exhaling Game 2

A Daily Babble Production

After taking a day just to catch our breath and come down from the ceiling, we're ready to take a belated look back on all the craziness aside from Ray Allen's smooth shooting in Monday night's 118-115 Celtics win over the Bulls.  To the bullet points we go...

  • Ben Gordon, please don't do that again.  That's a compliment.  Just an outstanding offensive performance.  For all the parts of his game with which I'm less than enamored, the guy sure can shoot, and he seems to kick another gear in big spots.  He earned the nickname Madison Square Gordon between his time at UConn and early days with the Bulls because he shined in Big East games at the World's Most Famous Arena and hit a couple of biggies against the Knicks early in his career.  He opened the playoffs at the TD Garden with a 12-point fourth quarter (in which he shot 4-for-5 in the last five minutes) and then a bonkers second game.  Gordon hit several high degree-of-difficulty shots and never showed a hint of hesitation.  The numbers merit re-posting: 14-for-24 from the field, 6-for-11 on threes, 8-for-9 foul shooting for 42 points without a turnover while managing to quadruple my pulse in the process.
  • Speaking of high-degree-of-difficulty shots, I wasn't as disgusted with Ray Allen at the defensive end as I was with Rajon Rondo during Derrick Rose's career day on Saturday.  While a couple of Gordon's baskets came off easier looks than I would have liked, Ray for the most part made a real effort to chase Gordon around the floor and make him work for his shots.  Gordon had at least one mid-range step-back in particular as well as a couple of other deep jumpers that looked well-covered and were of the "tip your cap and shake his hand" variety.
  • That said about Ray's defensive effort, as I watched the game, I shared the wonder that many on you have already expressed about the absence of Tony Allen.  As I noted in this space on Sunday, Allen did a nice job in spot work covering Gordon in the opener.  I agree with CB member CoachBo that while I'm not TA's biggest fan overall, I like the idea of using him as a situational stopper to give this team a defensive lift in spurts (if and only if he manages to keep his head in the game).  But I found the outcry about Doc Rivers' choice not to use TA a bit surprising: My expectation was that, as The Guru noted on the phone after the game, no matter what Doc did, it would be considered good enough if the Celts hung on to win and second-guessed to the end of time in a loss (which isn't necessarily fair but often is a natural reaction for us as observers).  

While there's a discussion to be had about how using TA in the second quarter would have affected Doc's willingness to use him later on, strictly from the standpoint of the fourth quarter alone, I'm fairly non-committal about the handling of the rotation there.  Allen offers the highest utility in late-game offense-defense situations when there tend to be stoppages on nearly an every-possession basis, so as to allow Doc to keep his starters and possibly shooter Eddie House in the game at the offensive end.  Prior to scoring the Bulls' final 12 points of the game beginning with 3:43 left, Gordon scored just two points in the fourth quarter, so I'm not sure there was much call for TA before that point in the period. 

Gordon then hit two threes in a span of 30 seconds without a stoppage occurring, and I don't buy that it was up to Doc anywhere in that span to call a timeout to get Allen in the game before an offensive possession.  That would have meant taking out either his point guard (not only en route to a triple-double but playing on an injury that Rivers said wouldn't allow him to come out of the game for fear of having it swell up), one of his two star swingmen, a power forward having a breakout offensive game or his defense-anchoring center.  While I recognize Celtics Hub's Brendan Jackson's point that TA offers offensive value in his ability to slash and draw fouls (as Jeff noted yesterday, this is a fine read), I'm not second-guessing Doc in that spot.  Or for not putting Allen on the floor right after the Celtics did call timeout, down five with 3:11 to play at that point.

On the other hand, in the game's final two minutes, the Bulls began three possessions out of timeouts and a fourth after two free throws for the Infuriated Infant.  Gordon hit shots on three of those four possessions, and the Celtics did have the timeouts left to utilize TA defensively and then stop play for a personnel change on offense in at least some of those instances if need be.

At the end of the day, I found myself intrigued that Doc didn't look to use TA at all save for four seconds at the end of the first half, but I wasn't by any means screaming at my television.  Five paragraphs seems like more than enough hindsight over-analysis for me for a line of decision-making that ultimately didn't haunt the Celtics, though I welcome all perspectives on this from the readership.

  • Much better defensive game from Rajon Rondo than we saw in the opener.  This is good.
  • Crazy game from Rondo across the board: With all the late-game excitement, it (embarrassingly) managed to escape me until well after the fact that Raj had put up a bonkers 19-12-16 triple-double.  Seven of those rebounds came at the offensive end, and one loomed particularly large (when he grabbed his own miss outside the left elbow and flipped to Ray Allen for the trey to put the Celts up 115-113).  This would have been a fine performance for a guy playing on two good ankles.  On one?  Wow.
  • Only one real Rondo complaint (call me nitpicky if you must): a set of two atrocious possessions in the final 90 seconds, though both ended well.  With the Celtics down one, Rondo killed the entire shot clock dribbling without ever bringing the ball below the foul line, only to force up a jumper from the left wing as the clock wound down.  I screamed "Noooo!" as it went up and "Yes!" as it went through the hoop.  Doc appeared to be yelling at Rondo on the sidelines during the ensuing timeout, and if it went anything along the lines of "Big shot, but that's absolutely not the type of possession we need there," I'm all for it.  But the next time down, with the Celtics again trailing by one, we saw the same scenario unfold.  Dribble, dribble, dribble, Rondo jumper, which simply isn't the shot the Celtics want to have rely on in that spot (though it's certainly getting better).  This time, of course, Raj solved the problem by tracking down the carom and flipping the ball to Ray for the trey.  Again, the youngster played a great game, and even the two possessions I'm annoyed with worked out.  But I'd be lying if I said I didn't come away from that sequence feeling a bit unsettled.
  • Derrick Rose moves at insane speeds.  When Paul Pierce forced a Chicago turnover to set up a one-on-none lay-up for Rondo, Rose sprinted from deep in his frontcourt all the way down the floor and got to within a hair of catching Rondo.  While it should be noted that Rondo's speed was limited because of his ankle injury and that he took the extra time to cross the lane and to get to the right side, watching the rookie point guard zoom down the floor still qualified as quite a sight to behold.
  • Underrated on the list of reasons to be thrilled that Brian Scalabrine will be returning to uniform on Thursday: We won't have to witness the redhead sitting on the bench as some sort of mutant cross between a pumpkin and a garbage man.  I realize that this is the second day in a row that I've commented on another fellow's fashion, which is normally outside my range of analysis, but good gosh, Scal.  Monday's performance was a travesty for a guy making NBA money.
  • Speaking of inactive list members present on the bench, great to see Kevin Garnett looking fired up again.  Probably not so great for TNT's family audiences that the cameras managed to turn to him right in the middle of a couple of vintage KG, er, pep talks, shall we say.  Multiple people in the we-don't-care-about-pro-hoops Midwest approached me yesterday just to inform me of what they read on Garnett's lips.  I'll leave those worries to the people running the broadcast.  It sure felt reassuring to see KG back on his feet and in everyone's ear rather than sitting with the sullen expression he rocked on Saturday.
  • Credit Stephon Marbury for doing a good job sprinting back to turn what would have been a three-on-none into a three-on-one break in the second quarter.  The Bulls wound up throwing the ball away.  Without Marbury hustling to get back in the play, there is no need for a pass, and the possession likely ends in a lay-up.
  • Besides that play, a little more working to get back to the defensive end in fast-break situations for the Bulls wouldn't have killed anyone in green and white in general.
  • Back to Marbury: He should have taken the wide open right-elbow jumper he passed up in the second quarter when he chose to dish to Leon Powe for a contested lay-up instead.  But given that he saw Brad Miller take a small step toward him and thought he might keep coming, I understand looking to get an even higher percentage shot down low.  I'm still happier seeing Steph guilty of not enough selfishness rather than having it be the other way around.
  • He still needs to get a bit smarter about certain things on the court (the foul on Pierce at the end of Game 1 and the technical he picked up in Game 2 come to mind), but I'd take a guy like Joakim Noah on my team any day.
  • Tyrus Thomas, super-athlete.  Several of his six blocks required awe-striking leaping ability and timing.  One note: The Bulls gained immediate possession on exactly one of Thomas' swats.  A second came at the end of a quarter.  The other four resulted in two offensive rebounds by the Celtics and two balls sent out of bounds that remained in the Celtics' possession.
  • Congratulations to Vinny Del Negro for running out of timeouts at the end of regulation twice in three days.  We're still waiting for word about how he spent his Sunday, so this stat may have to be updated.
  • Great, great, great job on the offensive glass.  Led by seven o-boards apiece for their biggest (Kendrick Perkins) and smallest (Rondo) players, the Celtics collected nearly 43 percent of their opportunities on the offensive glass for an astounding 21 extra chances.  That turned into no shortage of second-chance points, especially for Perk, Rondo and the Infuriated Infant in the early going.  The Bulls as a team only grabbed eight offensive boards of their own.
  • Oh Baby!  The Large Baby turned in an excellent performance, knocking down his jump shots and making several moves to the basket that demonstrated an agility defying his bulky physique.  Watching him grow as a player seems to get even more fun with each passing day.
  • Perk submitted another set of important contributions.  He worked the glass, took good shots without over-dribbling inside and hit a short jump hook to put the Celts ahead by one in the last six minutes of the fourth quarter.
  • The Bulls now sit at 46-of-51 from the foul line in this series.  The Celtics are 38-for-52.  The two games were decided by a total of five points.
  • Get well soon, Leon Powe.  We'll miss you.

In case you're looking for a pick-me-up for your midweek work day while wishing time would fly to tomorrow night's game, this might help.

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