Bulls Trail 3-2 in the Series No One Will Forget


Apr 29

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It’s difficult to judge a masterpiece until it’s completed. What was the Mona Lisa before the smile? War and Peace in the opening? Seinfeld in the first season?

The Boston Celtics Tuesday defeated the Bulls 106-104 in an NBA history making third overtime game in this series to take a 3-2 lead with Game 6 Thursday in Chicago.

It’s difficult to appreciate just what great basketball is going on given–at least for Bulls fans with the loss–the controversial outcome Tuesday. That was the Bulls furious over the lack of a flagrant foul call against Brad Miller with two seconds left in the overtime and the Bulls trailing by two after Paul Pierce’s stone cold killer pullup with 3.4 seconds left, his third consecutive right elbow jumper to eventually provide the winning points.

The Bulls came out of the timeout looking for Ben Gordon, who despite questions about whether he would play with a sore hamstring, was out there 51 minutes and led the Bulls with 26 points, though on six of 21 shooting.

“I took some pain killers,” said Gordon. “I’m sure in the morning I’ll be feeling it. Once you’re out there on the floor, injuries and whatever ailments you have don’t exist. It’s very disappointing to have the kind of lead we had and let them come back into the game.”

That was when the Bulls led 77-66 with 9:28 left in regulation, which is merely a marker in this series.

Boston had stormed back with Pierce hitting the tying shot with 10.5 seconds left in regulation and Gordon missing a last chance.

So now the Bulls were going to take one last shot at it, a three from Gordon to try to win it.

Gordon faded toward the right wing above the three-point line where he’d been with 27.3 seconds left and trailing 104-101 when Tony Allen, playing for the fouled out Ray Allen, fouled Gordon and Gordon made all three for the tie.

Pierce then set up John Salmons a third straight time in the Celtics so called one-four play where they isolate Pierce in the middle. The Bulls had done a brilliant job trapping Pierce all game, and Pierce had grown somewhat disinterested.

But Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro elected to let Salmons go it alone as Celtics coach Doc Rivers put shooters in the far corners. Would Pierce have given the ball up? Salmons actually played excellent defense, but Pierce went to the same move at the right elbow each time and hit three straight jumpers.

“I thought about doubling him a lot, but the problem is that the Celtics do such a good job and he fades away and he’s 6-8 and it’s his spot,” said Del Negro. “We talked about coming with different players, but they’ve picked us apart a little bit with that on the glass (by switching), and he hit some tough fadeaway shots with hands in his face. That’s what great players do, they make big plays. That’s something we’ll talk about again. We’ve come with double teams, we’ve come with single teams, we’ve come off bigs, we’ve come off littles, and he’s seen it all. He’s an All-Star player for a reason, so it’s a tough set and we just have to fight through.”

I probably would have stayed with the double, though had Pierce passed for a three we probably would have been questioning leaving someone open like that.

There’s always something to second guess in great endings likes these.

Still, the Bulls were ready to steal a win with Gordon an unlikely hero after what looked like the game winner with 16.6 seconds left at the end of regulation for a 93-91 lead, Gordon picking up his own fumble and shoving a shot in as only he can.

Gordon also hit an amazing banker between Tony Allen and Rajon Rondo along with five free throws in the overtime session.

And now it was time for the walkoff, the three.

Boston already has seen too much of that and just about everyone had collapsed toward Gordon.

“It’s a play we’ve run,” said Miller. “Two, three guys went to Ben and I understand why. It left an opening and I attacked.”

Miller, amazingly open, rumbled to the basket.

“I knew they were going to Ben Gordon for the three,” said Kendrick Perkins. “We were up two. I saw Brad Miller going to flare. I wasn’t even looking at Rondo. I just seen Ben Gordon break loose to the corner and I said, ‘I’m not giving him this shot with all the shots he was making.’ Rondo kept coming and ended up hitting Brad Miller.”

Miller went down with a thud, bleeding from the mouth and seemingly dazed, needing stitches.

Down goes Miller! Down goes Miller!

“It was a hell of a fake by Brad,” said Boston coach Doc Rivers. “That wasn’t what they were trying to run. But we did take away the pass to Ben Gordon. And then Brad faked it and got to the basket. It was just a great instinctive play. It was a great foul by Rondo. You always talk about playoff basketball. No lay-ups. Rondo did it on the very last play and it won the game for us.”

The Bulls were screaming for a flagrant foul, which would be two shots and the ball. Perkins also seemed to have hit the rim on his recovery, which could have been goad tending, which would mean a tie and a chance for a three-point play to go ahead.

“A few plays before than it was flagrant fouls on them,” said Perkins. “It wasn’t a flagrant foul I thought it was a good playoff foul.”

The referees huddled to examine the time on the clock, but didn’t change anything. Miller would miss the first free throw off the front rim, his eyes glassy, his first words to reporters after the game about how it feels: “I feel like a beer.” Miller then had to miss the second down two, but failed to hit the rim for a violation. That was it as Pierce missed two free throws and the clock expired.

“I was going for the ball,” said Rondo. “Miller, he’s like 290. Maybe more than that. I’m a little guy. So I had to go for the foul hard. I wasn’t trying to take the guy out or hit his head. He took it up with his right hand. I tried to make sure he couldn’t finish and get an and one. Simple as that. I may have hit him in his head. But I went through his arm first trying to get to the ball. I’m not a dirty player. I tried to give him a hard foul. Nothing flagrant.”

And so it ended and on to the United Center for Act VI. Yes, this one now deserves Roman numerals.

“I do (appreciate the brilliance of the games),” said Hinrich, who had four stitches of his own above his right eye. “When you look back on it you probably will. Right now in the moment we want to win the series. It’s hard fought. We can’t be frustrated losing these close games where it looks like we have an advantage. We’ve just got to go home and be ready and stay with it.”

Gordon led the Bulls with 26 while Hinrich had 19 off the bench and Joakim Noah had 11 points and 17 rebounds.

Hinrich had 14 in the first half in continuing to rally the Bulls, and added another acute problem for the Celtics.

“We’ve got to stop Kirk Hinrich,” said Perkins. “He can’t just keep coming in and giving 18 points. That hurt us. He gave them a spark. We shut Kirk Hinrich down I think we can close out the series.”

Rondo led Boston with another brilliant game with 28 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds while Pierce had 26, 15 in the fourth quarter and overtime, Glen Davis had 21 and Perkins had 16 points, 19 rebounds and seven blocks without a personal foul.

There’ll be plenty of complaining from this one, though the Bulls shot 32 free throws to 24 for Boston and Ray Allen fouled out on a series of questionable touch fouls. And, of course, the Miller takedown.

“You have to go for the basketball and [Rondo] didn’t come near the basketball,” said Del Negro. “He came right across his face so the ball was extended, it was out, and he came right across. I thought it was a flagrant, and I thought it was a physical call. I agree that it is a playoff foul, but you still have to call it, and I’m sure that will be addressed and they’ll (NBA) take a look at it.”

Again, it was a stomach turner with 13 lead changes and 15 ties and the Bulls seemingly about to take the series lead with a 7-0 run to start the fourth quarter to give them an 11-point lead.

Ray Allen was sitting with his fifth, the Celtics bench was again spitting up on its feet (two for 10 shooting and starting to hide from shots), and the Bulls were smothering Pierce.

“When you’ve got Ray fouled out of the game and you’re searching for bodies, it didn’t look good,” Rivers said.

The Celtics then hit the Bulls with a 14-6 run culminated by an open Ray Allen three to pull within 83-80 with 5:45 left.

Allen then drew a double foul with Miller on a collision to foul out with 5:27 left and the Bulls ahead by three. The Celtics were furious and hopping around as it was just the second time Allen had fouled out in nearly 70 playoff games.

“Once the double technical happened, the game got a lot more physical,” said Del Negro.

The Bulls then got back to back threes from Salmons and Gordon to seemingly retake control.

“I wasn’t worried about Ben Gordon being hurt,” said Rivers. “I’ve seen that act before. And he was terrific. He made some unbelievable shots. And honestly some of them were very well defended, and we’ll take some of those shots. And if he makes them, he makes them. But overall he didn’t look injured to me.”

Noah then came up with a strong strip from Pierce and freed Rose for a driving score on a nice screen. Rondo drove it back at the Bulls to get within 91-89 with 1:40 left in regulation. Salmons had his shot blocked in a crush of bodies by Perkins, leading to Pierce’s run out layup from Rondo to tie the game at 91 with 1:13 left.

Derrick Rose, who had 14 points and six assists but six turnovers, slipped on Rondo’s foot and lost the ball. But with a chance to take the lead, Stephon Marbury ran away from an open jumper and handed to Rondo who short armed it with 27 seconds left.

Tied at 91, the Bulls probably should have run down the clock.

But Gordon took off and hit the off balance 17 footer with 16 seconds left. That gave the Celtics ample time and Pierce got Rose on a switch and hit the 15 footer over him with 10 seconds left. Gordon missed the 20 footer at the close of regulation.

And here we went, the Bulls playing just seven guys again (Lindsey Hunter was in for 45 seconds) and Perkins, Rondo and Pierce for the Celtics all playing more than 48 minutes.

“Clearly I’m not managing minutes,” said Rivers. “I’m playing guys 50 minutes. So, listen, we –not we, they – they’re basketball players. That’s what we do. You know? We get days off in between. Hell, we play all day. And that’s our attitude. If we had to play guys 60 minutes, we’ll do it. What else is there to do right now?” Yes, they just keep playing in this series.

The teams traded scores to open the overtime. Hinrich had switched onto Rondo by now and Rondo twice drove him to the basket for a score and two free throws. Tony Allen again lost Gordon in the corner, and Rose ran out after a Rondo turnover to get the Bulls within 102-101 with 1:36 left.

That’s when it became the Pierce show.

Sixteen footer over Salmons. Gordon miss.

Nineteen footer over Salmons. But then Allen with that horrific three-point shooting foul on Gordon. Game tied at 104 with 27.3 seconds left.

Pierce 19 footer over Salmons, and the place was going bonkers.

“I took my own time,” said Pierce. “I got some space off the dribble and got into my sweet spot and took the shots. I missed a couple wide-open threes (earlier) I had missed a couple lay-ups. I never got down because of the shots I missed because I thought a lot of them were good shots and I just knew before long they would follow. And I just thought when Ray fouled out it was time for me to really step up.”

And then it was time for Miller to go down.

“Disgusted, disappointed,” said Salmons. We let one slip away.

We could have taken control of the series. We’ve got to go back to Chicago and get one. We never lacked confidence. We’ve just got to finish games better. If we do that, we’ll be all right.”

Flagrant on Miller?

“Yeah, his tooth was coming out,” said Salmons. “He was bleeding.”

As for defending Pierce, Salmons said: “It was one on one. It was up to me to guard him. He made three shots. He made good shots.

That’s how I’ve been playing him all series, try to stay in front of him. Try not to let him get his shoulder past mine. Keep him in front and contest his jumper. He hit them. The series is up and down. We’ve just got to keep our edge. We came in confident and we’re leaving confident.”

But without that win they wanted to badly, and probably should have had.

The Bulls shot just 40 percent, and were dominated in scoring inside 54-32 as they again went small much of the second half with Salmons playing power forward and Del Negro mostly rotating one big man at center. It left Tyrus Thomas with less than 30 minutes and just 26 seconds played after the third quarter. You sometimes wonder if Thomas could help defensively at the end, though Del Negro trusts Miller more for offense and veteran play.

Hinrich was terrific early, and Del Negro said he would have played him more if not for the cut above his right eye. Boston led 23-21 after one quarter as the Bulls withstood an early rush. Salmons was running out every time Pierce penetrated, and the Bulls made a nice adjustment on Perkins’ postups and had a second defender coming along the baseline where Perkins likes to spin and forced some bad shots and picked up a few steals.

The Celtics stayed big and the Bulls took advantage of Brian Scalabrine trying to defend Salmons and Hinrich beating a late retreating Pierce. That enabled the Bulls to push ahead 47-44 at halftime with Noah outhustling Perkins downcourt.

The normally calm Salmons picked up a technical foul in the third quarter as the play became more hazardous, but the Bulls endured. Gordon got away with a classic flop on a three and began to get the range with he and Hinrich closing the third with threes and Hinrich taking that hit in the face, though the Bulls led 70-66 after three.

“A few times I said ‘Ben, how are you? Are you alright?’ and he just said ‘Yeah, I’m fine’ or ‘Yeah, I’m a little tight’ but he played 50 minutes,” said Del Negro of the all day drama of Ben’s hammy. “I was going to take him out because once he gets tight it’s hard to get him loose again. I was fine with him being out there because he’s such a threat. I thought he didn’t shoot the basketball well, but he draws so much attention.”

The Bulls spurted to open the fourth and the Celtics looked ready to be counted out as Miller started the fourth with a three and then hit Noah inside with a clever bounce pass for a layup and that 77-66 lead.

“Paul Pierce was unbelievable,” said Noah. “Guys are hitting crazy shot after crazy shot. It’s all about who’s going to make that shot at the end of the game. We had our chances, and that’s what makes it so tough. I still feel that we can win the series.”

See my previous post for more on the Miller play.

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