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Throwback recap: Celtics vs. Bulls, Game 1 of the 2009 NBA Playoffs

“We’re going to be watching these two point guards for a long, long time.”

NBA: Boston Celtics at Chicago Bulls Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

1st quarter

It’s amazing to look back at how the concept of floor spacing almost doesn’t exist in 2009. The Celtics had the luxury of having Paul Pierce and Ray Allen to pressure the defense, except neither of them could buy a basket this game. The Bulls had Ben Gordon at his peak, Kirk Heinrich (who would still absolutely murder the Celtics if he were in the league today), Derrick Rose without a developed three-point shot, and a certain someone who became a mid-range machine that we’ll discuss later.

Both teams began a lot of their possessions with a guard outside the arc and everyone else inside of it. It’s bizarre. Nothing looks like it fits. Ray Allen went for a post-up in the first minute of the game. Kendrick Perkins (eight first quarter points) had three post-ups in the first few minutes.

With Pierce and Allen roaming the perimeter and Glen Davis meandering just outside the post, there was enough space for this Rondo assist:

So maybe spacing wasn’t completely non-existent, but it certainly wasn’t prioritized in the same way, if at all.

Stephon Marbury played relevant minutes in this game, which somehow slipped my memory completely. He played the last 18.3 second of the first quarter, and did some stuff we’ll get to later.

2nd quarter

Oh my god, I can’t believe this lineup existed. The Celtics opened this quarter with Stephon Marbury, Eddie House, Mikki Moore, Leon Powe, and Tony Allen. It’s especially strange to see given that Tony Allen only played 8:34 for the game and Moore only clocked in for 5:31. The rough shooting start, as well as some defensive lapses throughout that left Joakim Noah wide open under the basket, must have pushed Doc Rivers to pull out all the stops.

Rose (36 points, 11 assists) and Noah (11 points, 17 rebounds, 3 blocks) dismantled the Celtics by themselves in this quarter, with Rose knocking down his mid-range shots and Noah rolling to the basket. Doc Rivers was absolutely livid watching the Celtics lose track of Noah.

It wasn’t all bad for Boston. Check out this bonkers assist from Rondo to Davis:

The end of the quarter was chaos. Ben Gordon gets clobbered shooting a three—no foul called—and with the Celtics already walking off the court, Brad Miller catches the rebound with less than a second left and gets a free basket to beat the buzzer. Gee whiz, it sure would be unfortunate if that were to happen in a game decided by one possession...

Third quarter

Pierce hits an early three coming off a screen with a defender right on his back. Can you imagine what prime Pierce would be doing today? Forget all the “everything is a foul now” stuff and just imagine what he’d do with all the new knowledge and refined technique on stepback threes. He’d be taking ten of them per game.

Dan Shulman, talking about Rondo and Rose, says, “we’re going to be watching these two point guards for a long, long time.” I mean, he’s not wrong, but...

Another instance of “spacing actually matters and maybe we should create more of it” is Pierce catching the ball at the top of the key, waiting for defenders to come, and then dishing to Glen Davis in the corner for an open shot.

John Salmons bricks a transition three for Chicago, prompting Shulman (or maybe Jon Barry, I confused the two of them constantly so you’ll just have to bear with me) to say “That’s probably not the shot Vinny Del Negro had in his mind.” Well, here’s an idea: it should be in his mind. The future is now, old man.

Ray Allen draws a Marcus Smart-level charge that would impress us even today. Immediately, after the Bulls inbound to Rose off a made basket, Ray stands just behind him and Rose runs straight into him. The crowd erupts.

Fourth quarter

Stephon Marbury starts the quarter defending Rose, and forces what would have been a fantastic turnover for Boston had there not been a bail out call in favor of the Bulls. The officials allowed a LOT of contact in this game, but I think the tension got to them late.

Either way, Brad Miller threw the People’s Elbow for no reason just after the inbound, so Boston got the ball back.

Another glimpse of the future: Kendrick Perkins does the Daniel Theis seal to get Pierce an easy layup.

Tyrus Thomas (16 points, 8-12 FG) hits Boston with an absolutely nuts move in transition. It was like half of a euro-step and then a floater. This was an omen.

Rondo grabs a crucial offensive rebound, and with 22 seconds left he throws a hook shot over Joakim Noah. Just insanity to even consider attempting that.

Rose is awarded free throws for getting tangled with Rondo, which is an extremely tough call given how much contact was allowed up until that point. Noah fouls Pierce on the other end, who hits one free throw which means:


Remember Tyrus Thomas? Yeah, we lost a playoff game because he shot 3-4 in OT, drilling jumper after jumper. The Bulls got zero offense from Rose in overtime, in part because he fouled out.

The Celtics got an extra shot after an unsuccessful Pierce drive should have very clearly been called a turnover, but Ray Allen missed it. Allen was 1-12 on the day, Pierce (23 points) was 8-21. Allen also dribbled a fast break opportunity off his leg early in the period.

29 points, 9 assists, 7 boards for Rondo, who was unstoppable when he got downhill. 14 points (7-11 FG) and 8 rebounds for Kendrick Perkins.

Final score: Chicago 105, Boston 103.

Box score

Full Rondo highlights:

Closing thought: I really want Eddie House on today’s Celtics, mostly for the screaming and trash talking.

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