Bulls Win Another Classic. Series Tied 2-2.


Apr 26

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The Bulls may not be the best team in the NBA. But they may be the most exciting.

And they may be playing a playoff series never to be forgotten, Sunday’s 121-118 double overtime victory over the Boston Celtics to even the series 2-2 adding to one of the great stories of the NBA year.

“Everybody I’m talking to is saying this is the most exciting series they’re watching,” said Ben Gordon, who hit another one of those “I can’t believe it” threes to force a second overtime. “We’ve won there (Boston). We played well there (winning in overtime and losing on a dramatic Ray Allen three). “If we continue to play like we’re playing with that edge anything is possible.”

OK, let’s not get too far ahead.

The last time the Bulls did after splitting in Boston, they came home and were embarrassed in a blowout loss in Game 3.

It turned out to be an aberration for this season’s best playoff series thus far and the one best set to piano music.

You know, “Amazing Happens Here.”

If you missed this one, pretend you didn’t.

There were 28 lead changes and 12 ties. And we thought that was special when we saw 26 lead changes and 17 ties in the Game 1 overtime opener when the Bulls won 105-103 in Boston.

That was the Derrick Rose show.

This time the great moments were shared. Like:

  • Gordon’s heroics once again. He can still drive you nuts with the overdribbling and turnovers, like one in the first overtime when he kicked the ball out of bounds with 48.9 seconds left and the Celtics ahead 107-105. But Gordon had an amazing running bank shot between three defenders with 31.2 seconds in regulation to give the Bulls a two-point lead before Ray Allen’s three—yes, he hit one again—tied the game at 96 with 9.8 seconds left. It was as emotional as we’ve ever seen the cool Gordon, grabbing himself after his big overtime three—“If Mr. Stern asks it was my groin (injured),” he joked about a possible league discipline—and chest bumping with Joakim Noah after a Noah block on Glen Davis with 2:22 left in the second overtime and the Bulls ahead by four.

    “I was pumped today,” said Gordon. “I wanted to do whatever I could to help the crowd get into it, my teammates. Because we definitely needed this game. I’m just living in the moment. At that point it was the biggest play of the game. I was so proud of him for the effort he gave and everything he did.

    I wanted to hug him. But I thought a chest bump was a little more appropriate for a basketball player.”

    Gordon actually suffered a hamstring strain in the first half and said he’ll have an MRI Monday. He rode a stationary bicycle during the game to keep loose, but said he expects to play in Game 5 Tuesday.

  • John Salmons, missing his first six shots and sitting out much of the fourth quarter, leading the Bulls with 11 points in the overtimes when he hit a crucial three with 1:47 left in the first overtime with the Bulls trailing 105-100. And then sealing the win with four clutch free throws in the last 27 seconds. Oh, yeah, also blocking Paul Pierce’s attempted three to tie the game at the end of the second overtime.

    “My team relied on me to put points on the board,” said Salmons. ”I actually turned a shot down in the first half. I was mad at myself for that. My teammates were telling me if I was open to shoot. I definitely wanted another chance.

    On the free throws, I talked to God a little bit.”

  • Kirk Hinrich taking the defensive assignment on Paul Pierce and frustrating Pierce, overplaying him, pushing and getting on his side, his back, fronting him and helping stall the Celtics’ offense. Hinrich had 18 points and three steals and scored five straight to open the fourth quarter when the Celtics took a 71-65 lead.

    “Kirk is going to battle and fight him,” said Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro of Hinrich playing Pierce. “John obviously is longer, bigger. Kirk is going to three quarter him, front him, make it hard, try to have him catch the ball off his sweet spot.”

  • Noah, who after being pushed around earlier in the game and being substituted for to bring in Brad Miller because Noah wasn’t slipping the screens and trying to score when the Celtics trapped on the perimeter, came up with a terrific sequence in the second overtime. He blocked Davis, did roll off a Hinrich penetration and slammed for a 116-112 lead with 1:26 left, then blocked an Allen layup attempt, rebounded a Pierce miss and was fouled and went on to make one of two free throws for a 117-112 lead with 35 seconds left in the second overtime.

    The plays brought a series of “Noah, Noah, Noah,” chants from the hysterical, celebrating home crowd.

    “Guys are playing and having fun and have a lot of confidence now,” said Brad Miller, who was almost ejected for a little skirmish with Davis early in the fourth quarter. “They were doing a little Noah chant and he was getting all fired up about that. That’s how he plays and that gets him going.”

    “This is beautiful,” Noah announced to the crowd after the game ended and he grabbed the microphone from postgame host Steve Kashul as he was about to do the interview. “Can you believe three months ago we would be sitting here in this situation against the defending champions!”

    The crowd roared.

Yes, it was a terrific day over on the West Side, waking some of the echoes. No one is confusing this group for any of the championship Bulls teams, though it was impressive to see them fight off the Celtics’ seeming inevitability throughout the game.

“I liked the way we kept fighting,” said Del Negro. “We didn’t give in. It looked bleak. We had a lead, they did. We made more plays. It was just a great basketball game.”

The Bulls were led by Rose with 23 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists, though he also had seven turnovers. But after Thursday’s sleepwalk he came out aggressively pushing the ball, even screaming after a slam dunk a few minutes into the game. He is quiet, but he led by example. He was saying he wasn’t going to sit down and lose like that again, and the team followed.

“My team is looking for me to be aggressive,” said Rose. “ I was looking to push the ball and get my teammates involved.”

Gordon had 22 and Salmons had 20. The Bulls played just seven players (Lindsey Hunter played 15 seconds, which I didn’t see) and every one scored in double figures. The last time that happened was the Phoenix Suns in 2006. Yes, it is Bulls West, and that’s who they are.

You wonder, though, the effect with Gordon admitting he also took a pain killing shot. It would seem to have been a time to buy a few minutes earlier with Tim Thomas and Aaron Gray, especially when the Celtics in the second quarter were playing most of their reserves.

Though for Boston, Pierce played 52 minutes, Allen 46 and Rondo 55, though it shouldn’t bother Rondo, who never, ever seems to tire. He is that battery bunny guy. Rondo had a second triple double in the series with 25 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists is now averaging a triple double for the four games.

“He plays with such composure,” marveled Boston coach Doc Rivers. “He may have been the most composed player on the floor. He didn’t even come out in the second half. Other than taking our the garbage, I don’t know what more he can do.”

Allen had 28 points and hit five threes while Pierce led Boston with 29 points. But he was nine of 24 and generally forcing contact to get fouls and slowing down the Celtics offense with postups that allowed the Bulls to set against him and led to six turnovers. It was the worst 29 points you’d ever want to see.

“We would have liked to get this one,” said Pierce. “It was a tough loss to swallow. We gave ourselves a chance going into the first overtime. Little things in the playoffs are what kill you. Me not covering Ben Gordon on the three. It’s a three-game series now and hopefully we can take care of business. We’re not going to cry over spilled milk. We need to understand why we lost and go back and clean up some stuff, get a win at home and then come back to Chicago.”

Rivers clearly was dismayed by the game and the outcome, unusually subdued after the game. He seemed upset at the Gordon three to tie the game in the first overtime when Rivers said they were supposed to foul with a three-point lead and nine seconds left to start the play. The Bulls didn’t start it well, throwing into Salmons in the post, where the Celtics should have fouled. But Rondo got buried in a screen. Pierce picked up Gordon, but stumbled and Gordon had a pretty good look to tie the game. It was clear the Celtics should have fouled given not only the lead, but the tiring Bulls had just missed two of four free throws, one each by Gordon and Hinrich.

“It was a disappointing loss on our part,” said Rivers. “ Our execution down the stretch was so bad that it was scary. We had this one. They did, too. We made a three they shouldn’t have given up (to Allen at the end of regulation). They made a three we absolutely shouldn’t have given up at the end.

“We always foul (in that situation),” lamented Rivers. “Foul, switch, we broke ‘em all (our defensive rules). We were guarding Noah. Our thought was if he pops for the three and makes it, they should win. But, hell, give ‘em credit. What I always say is even when you screw it up they have to make the shot. And Ben Gordon made a hell of shot. He deserves all the credit.

“Maybe we like Chicago a lot,” Rivers said. “(We must) want to come back. The pizza is freakin’ good. That’s what we’re doing.”

Yes, it’s at least Game 6 back in Chicago Thursday, and it’s hard to imagine there can be another like this, another three, really, after a truly amazing week of basketball.

It didn’t look great for the Bulls early. Teams coming off a loss like the Bulls had at home in Game 3 usually try to come out with a rush and incite the home crowd. The Bulls failed to do so, and Del Negro went to the bench quickly with the team down 13-10 to replace Tyrus Thomas, who was shooting a bit too much already, and Rose, though I thought that was premature with Rose.

Rondo again started fast, and I thought the Celtics’ demise toward the latter stages was forgetting about Rondo and isolating too much for Pierce. I thought Rivers also made a crucial mistake early in the second quarter as Boston was ahead 19-18 after one. Rivers went with the bottom of his bench with Eddie House, Stephon Marbury, Mikki Moore and Brian Scalabrine playing together, and it was a disaster for Boston.

The Bulls went on a 10-2 run with Rose hitting Tyrus for a slam dunk, Hinrich hitting a three and Miller rolling off a pick for a three-point play.

The Bulls took a 30-23 lead, which invited the crowd back in. It was their biggest lead of the game.

The Celtics ran their regulars back in and recovered to lead 46-45 at halftime. Boston had pulled ahead, but the Bulls came back and had a two-point lead with Boston with a last shot to end of the half. Rondo dribbled on top and then hit an open Allen for a three. It was Tyrus with the responsibility, but Boston kept luring him in as he looked for weak side blocks and was taking advantage of his over aggressiveness.

The Bulls had a good stretch again midway through the third quarter as Noah got inside Kendrick Perkins for a tip in, Tyrus scored off a pass from Salmons, who was trapped on a drive,and Gordon hit a pullup for a 65-58 lead.

Though the Celtics took control yet again with a 12-0 run to end the third quarter as Allen was fouled on a three-point shot by Tyrus, Pierce got a switch and hit a three and Rondo picked up a loose ball and put it back.

The Bulls changed their defensive coverages Sunday, and it had some success. I expect the Celtics will react well to it.

The Bulls hadn’t been dealing with the Celtics’ pick and roll. So they went back to a tactic they’d used a lot earlier in the season of switching everything. The danger is you get these awful mismatches with small players like Rose and Gordon in the paint against taller players. The Celtics didn’t take advantage very well as the Bulls pretty much tried to zone the middle after the switches and had some success.

I think it also lured them into more of the isolations with Pierce, which curtailed their flow.

Also, a word about Perkins, who fouled out late in regulation with three fouls in a three-minute stretch, further weakening the Celtics thin interior. Perkins and Davis have been mauling Noah and Tyrus, which was why Miller made an early and frequent entrance. The Bulls had been complaining about the two pushing with hands on, though there were a few rebounds in the first half Perkins held Noah off with one hand, like you’d do a small child, and grabbed the ball with the other.

Perkins also has a habit of extending his rear into a screen and taking a step, and the referees were watching and he was called and out of the game. When he got deep post position or backed in, Noah was helpless. So it made it a lot easier when he went out.

The Bulls actually got into the penalty three minutes into the fourth quarter, and for those fans who also find fault with the officiating against the home team, the Bulls appeared to get a big break on a Rose drive with 35 seconds left in regulation when Scalabrine seemed in good position for a charge. But Rose got the call and made two free throws for a 93-91 lead.

Though the Bulls were absorbing much more punishment from the aggressive Celtics, and it manifested itself in Miller’s little bout with Davis with 10 minutes left in regulation.

Miller, cleverly, saw Davis falling out of bounds with a rebound. Miller stepped inside and stole the pass. Davis turned and smashed Miller on the head in a feigned effort to get at the ball. Unlike Gordon, Rose and Salmons who’d taken a few shots like this and walked away, Miller went at Davis.

Remember, this was the guy in his first run with the Bulls who made Shaq madder than he ever was and barely got out of the way of a Shaq roundhouse punch.

Miller offered Davis a few choice Hoosierisms and looked like he’d balled his fist for a punch. The referees initially signaled an ejection. But they can review such situations and saw it wasn’t a punch and called a technical, though Miller could be fined in a league review.

“It was just a push,” Miller said. “I don’t think I pushed a 290-pound guy that hard. It was just a hard foul. They had a lot of hard fouls of our guys around the head area and I just pushed back a little bit.

“BG has been hit in the head a couple of game, D-Rose,” Miller said. “It just hasn’t been called. It’s part of them. Just push back a little bit. Those guys that’s how they play. Deal with it. He rung my bell a little bit. I was just trying to push him.”

Yes, the Bulls were pushing back this time.

Rose then took over with three driving scores with House in and Pierce still out. It gave the Bulls an 84-81 lead with Pierce coming back with 5:55 left.

Allen immediately responded with a three, and with a pair of Rondo scores and a Davis jumper, the Celtics were back ahead 90-87 with just over three minutes left.

Rose again spun by Perkins, getting 13 points in the fourth quarter. And after his two free throws and Gordon’s magnificent runner and one of two free throws from Tyrus, the Bulls led 96-93 with 16.6 seconds left.


“People think it’s real easy to foul sometimes,” said Del Negro. “But these guys are big and fast and all of a sudden you foul and he’s in the act of shooting. It happened to us in Boston. We had a foul to give. Paul Pierce is a veteran guy and we went to foul and he went up and got three free throws. If you can get to him quick when his back is to the basket that’s the best time, but if he’s facing you and he goes through it’s a judgment call on the ref. You have to be smart on when you can go and use your fouls and you have to know when to do it.”

The Bulls chose not to foul and their switching left Allen wide open for the three to tie. Davis has also been huge—and not only his width—in setting screens and holding off defenders, and did so again as Allen sprung open. Rose took a last shot at the regulation win. But he missed going hard right over Tony Allen and Davis.

The first overtime looked like a Boston win as Scalbrine, Allen and Pierce opened with jumpers as the Bulls went small with Salmons playing power forward, a lineup they used in both overtimes. Eventually, the Celtics would match down, though the Bulls got away with a failure to insert Tyrus on some offensive/defensive switches several times.

Pierce missed a big free throw with 18.9 seconds left that could have given Boston a 109-106 lead, after which Gordon missed one when he drove at Davis and fell from about five feet flat on his back and lay there. He is an amazingly tough guy.

“It just knocked the wind out of me,” Gordon said. “I was dazed. I couldn’t get any oxygen to my brain.”

Allen then hit a pair of free throws as the Bulls had to foul intentionally, and then came Gordon’s pressure three. Right after missing the free throw. Rondo had a chance for a winner. He ran down the clock, but then forced up a long jumper that missed badly off the back rim.

“I have a short memory,” Gordon said of his missed free throw.

“I think the play Vinny drew up really threw them off,” said Gordon, who called it the biggest shot of his career. “They didn’t know what to do. Paul got out to me pretty well because I couldn’t catch and shoot like I wanted to. I managed to get a good shot off. I think we caught ‘em off balance. Paul stumbled a little bit and I was able to get some separation. We definitely needed this game.”

Though the Celtics fought back even one last time as it almost began to look like triple overtime. Pierce was fouled on a putback score for a three-point play. Salmons then hit two free throws to make it 119-115 with 26.6 seconds left. Allen then missed a three. But Davis tipped it back to Pierce, who pump faked Salmons flying by and hit a three to bring Boston within 119-118 with 19.2 seconds left. Salmons was fouled and made two more before blocking Pierce’s final attempt from the left wing.

“Right now we don’t have anything to lose,” said Gordon. “I think everyone is rising to the occasion. This was probably the most exciting game I’ve played in. Double overtime. We could have easily (quit) after Ray hit that shot. We could have easily lost our cool and put our heads down and given up.

Everyone stayed in and we were able to pull a victory out. As long as there’s time we never really figure we’re out of it.”

Sure makes it fun.

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