Celtics Even Series. Bulls Look like the Better Team.


Apr 21

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You don’t usually feel this good after a playoff loss, this one a classic shootout with Ben Gordon’s 42 points and the Bulls losing to Ray Allen’s 30 points and game winning three with two seconds remaining for a 118-115 Boston Celtics victory.

But there weren’t heads down or soft voices. Derrick Rose called it all fun. Gordon agreed. Kirk Hinrich said they go home satisfied. Tyrus Thomas liked the way the team played. You’ve heard about statements in sports. These two playoff games here carried one for the Bulls, though no one quite came out and said that. The Celtics gave it their best shot and got career and near career efforts Monday from Glen Davis with 26 points and nine rebounds, Rajon Rondo with a triple double that included 16 assists and five steals, Kendrick Perkins with seven offensive rebounds and Allen with 28 points in the second half. And it still took a last shot to hold off the Bulls and even the series at 1-1 going to Chicago.

The Bulls lost Monday. But they may have won the series.

“We left everything out on the floor,” said Gordon, who had 25 in the second half, including the Bulls’ last 12 points on an assortment of how-did-he-make-that-one jumpers. “We could have won the game. But Ray hit a big shot and that’s it. We would have loved to win this game and head back to Chicago up 2-0 but we got a split and that’s tough to do against the defending champs.

“It was fun and it felt like we were at UCONN in the summertime playing pick up,” Gordon said of Allen with a dozen in the fourth quarter and he with 14. “We just didn’t have an answer for him at the end. I don’t remember (the fourth quarter). I was just in the zone.”

It was something to watch, a great NBA playoff game with 18 lead changes and four ties, including eight lead changes in the fourth quarter.

The Celtics, as expected, won it with force, outrebounding the Bulls 50-36, including a monstrous 32-12 on second chance points.

It was the fatal statistic for the Bulls.

But the Bulls controlled the game with their pace and fast break, holding a 21-10 lead in fast break points after 24-13 in the Game 1 overtime victory.

Yes, they are the Chicago Suns.

I’ll take it. Phoenix averaged 60 wins a year playing that way with a transcendent point guard, an athletic front line and good perimeter shooters.

The Bulls own the formula now.

It’s befuddled the Celtics, who played desperately. So give them credit. They trailed 109-104 with 3:13 left after Gordon’s second three in 30 seconds, and it looked like their short championship run was over.

Kevin Garnett this time stayed on the bench the entire game. But you get the sense the Celtics players know it’s over, that only the final date need be written in. Can they regain the motivation knowing they now are playing only for sure early elimination? Paul Pierce seems to know that more than anyone, and has played in a haze in the two games, adding a quiet 18 points in Game 2.

“I think we feel very confident because we feel like we haven’t even played good basketball yet,” insisted Pierce. “We win tonight and felt like we should of won game one and we just say, I feel like this is pretty much our C game. We were a team that doesn’t get give up 100 points in consecutive games, allow teams to shoot 49-50%. I think our best is yet to come in this series.”

It’s what you are supposed to say, though there didn’t seem as much conviction.

Sometimes you know, and the Celtics have to wonder.

Their defense is dreadful without Garnett as the Bulls shot 50 percent. They have almost no bench and the addition of Stephon Marbury has been awful as Marbury seems to have lost what he had. They have no offensive post threat without Garnett as Pierce hasn’t seemed interested enough. It looks like Leon Powe will be out with a sprained knee for Game 3, and Rondo sustained a sprained ankle in the first half Monday. He returned for the second half, and you would like to have seen Rose attack him a bit more.

But Gordon was hot and the Celtics made a point that Rose wasn’t going to beat them again. They showed hard on every screen roll with a big man, stringing Rose out and forcing the ball out of his hands. He ended with 10 points, seven assists and six rebounds and played just three minutes in the first quarter after committing two quick fouls.

“It was fun,” said Rose. “Still, (I) had an off game because of the fouls. (I) didn’t get a groove of the game ‘til like the second quarter. But we pushed them to the end and Ray hit a good shot. It was just a fun game out there. He hit a good shot over a seven footer, fading back. If that’s not the shot you don’t want someone to take, I don’t know what is. It felt that way (whoever had the ball last wins). Everybody was making clutch shot after clutch shot out there.”

The Bulls could have had the ball last with two seconds, but were again out of timeouts at the end, part of the learning process with rookie coach Vinny Del Negro.

“We had to just basically get it in and run, and high screen and roll and drag for Derrick, depending on what the clock was,” said Del Negro. “There wasn’t a lot of time left obviously when he hit it. They did a good job. Boston’s execution was good down the stretch. They got the shot off at the right time for an offensive rebound. He made it. We had a play set up to get it in and make something happen, but we didn’t really execute it very well.”

The Bulls inbounded to Tyrus Thomas, who missed well short on a half court shot.

Though Del Negro also did some nice things in the game, especially a subtle adjustment with Gordon. Gordon made a series of amazing shots with defense in his face. But the Bulls did a good job starting Gordon on the opposite side from Game 1, and giving him options off baseline screens and to come over the top of high screens. It seemed to confuse the Celtics, almost like trying to defend in a mirror.

But the Celtics succeeded with what turned out to be the final play of the game after Gordon has given the Bulls a 113-112 lead with 46.9 seconds left as he isolated and shot over Allen.

“We were exchanging jabs there, and I don’t mean (jump) shots,” said Allen, who was one of 12 in Game 1 and one of four in the first half Monday. “I mean, he caught me with an elbow, I got him right back with an elbow. It was competitive. Rip (Hamilton, also from the U. of Connecticut) and I went at it last year, and now it’s me and Ben. He’s tough out there because he rejects pick and rolls. In transition you have to find him. He can drive to the basket, so we just have to load up on him and just keep your hand in his face. For the most part, I thought I was in front of him the whole time. He just made some shots.”

Rondo then missed from on top. But Allen tipped the ball back and Allen went behind him for a three with 25.3 seconds left to give Boston a 115-113 lead.

“I knew that they wanted to come out and get Ray off to help them get a win,” said Gordon. “If he didn’t have the game he had tonight we would have gotten that win.”

It was unfortunate for Gordon to have 42 points and make six three pointers and lose. Though no one other than Michael Jordan in Bulls history has scored 42 points or more in a playoff game. Jordan, of course, did it many times. The previous second was Flynn Robinson with 41 points March 27, 1968.

Allen is right. Gordon doesn’t often take the screen and with 12.3 seconds left, Gordon drove hard at Allen, who was backing off. That gave Gordon a bit of space and Davis was late with the double and Gordon hit a 16 footer to tie the game at 115 with 12.3 seconds left.

You figured it had to go to Allen, though the Celtics ran a heck of a play.

A moment of confusion gave Allen just enough time. Joakim Noah, who had 13 points, eight rebounds and four blocks in another good effort, made a terrific recovery out to Allen. But it was a fraction too late as Allen hit the three from the top right side for the final margin.

With Rondo with the ball, the Celtics ran Pierce baseline toward a deep postup position. When the Bulls peeked at the screen and switched, Allen popped out for the winner.

“It was a great play,” said Allen. “Rondo had so many different options. He was going to have a shot, or make a play to the hole. Paul was coming off underneath the basket, and I think he was going to have Glen set the screen and go down, so we were going to get something. I think for that split second, Hinrich, he looked up and he pointed to Noah to help, and it was too late. Rondo made the pass and the rest is history.”

The Celtics and their championship run sure look like history.

Yes, they keep pointing to Pierce’s missed free throw at the end of Game 1 and how they could/should be ahead 2-0.

But like that old Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid movie with Paul Newman and Robert Redford, they just can’t seem to shake these Bulls. Who are those guys?

Noah is establishing himself, so much so that Celtics fans were booing him. Not too long ago it was Bulls fans. Tyrus Thomas had six blocks, one off Artis Gilmore’s team playoff record. John Salmons looked healthier with his sore groin than he has in weeks in getting 17 points and keeping Pierce in check. Brad Miller came back with 16 points and nine rebounds and some heady plays, running on a fast break to finish a Rose miss and taking advantage of switches and going inside when he had smaller players on him.

Lindsey Hunter gave the team some nice first half minutes with the foul trouble and should play more often. Hinrich made the only two shots he attempted.

Yes, the Bulls were beaten to the boards, though they didn’t back down in a rough game. The Bulls pounded the Celtics on the boards in Game 1 with Noah getting 17 rebounds, and the Celtics made it a point of emphasis. They did a lot of face guarding on rebounds and tried to intimidate the Bulls.

It didn’t work.

Noah got into it with the preening Perkins, who is earning that Bulls’ fans Public Enemy No. 1 status with his trash talking and strutting around, putting his arms up like a winning boxer after a fight in the third quarter when he got into it with Noah with the Celtics leading 72-70.

Noah drew an obscene chant from the allegedly sophisticated colonials who were celebrating Patriots’ Day here. It’s the commemoration of the Battles of Lexington and Concord, the first ones of the American Revolution. It has become the day they run the Boston Marathon here, and you wonder if the Celtics have the legs for one anymore.

“The only comment I have is I pray that Danny Ainge didn’t watch this game,” joked Celtics coach Doc Rivers of the team’s general manager, just released from the hospital after a mild heart attack. “At halftime you’ve got Rondo landing in the training room and Leon injured and guys in foul trouble. I said, I needed one volunteer. One volunteer to score for us, to step up for us. And it was Ray Allen. I told our guys that at halftime: ‘Look around. Not a lot of guys in uniform.’”

So it was some veteran savvy and an Allen hot streak that pulled it out.

The Bulls stood up to every shot until the last one, absorbing some hard fouls and returning them, and outhustling the Celtics. It looked like it might be over for Boston when midway through the fourth quarter Rose blocked a face up jumper by Pierce. Rose ran after it while Pierce stood dumbfounded and looking like he was toweling off after running the marathon. Rose saved the ball falling out of bounds and flipped back to Hinrich, who fired ahead to Noah for a layup and foul for a three-point play and 101-97 lead.

It’s had even Pierce, grudgingly, marveling.

“They are just having great individual efforts,” he said. “Gordon tonight, Rose the other night. And this is the time to find out which players are actually players, in the playoffs, and those guys are really showing it because you don’t really expect them to have these type of games especially in the playoffs. We know they’re very good players and have really good years, really played well for their teams. But you really didn’t expect them to come out and play like this. These are the moments that really make you as a player and they’re showing it.”

The Bulls took the big hit early, falling behind 24-12 as the Celtics came at them in a rush, attacking the boards, getting the loose balls on seemingly every block and turning them into scores. Rose got his second foul with 8:45 left in the first trying to stop Perkins inside, a mistake for him with one at that time. By the end of the first quarter, Hinrich had three fouls.

But the Bulls didn’t wilt. Because the Celtics have no Russell. Noah stole the ball from Perkins and got a slam dunk. Miller slid inside on a switch and Noah found him for an easy score. Salmons attacked Pierce with jumpers, and the Bulls were within 35-29 after one.

Even better, they’d gotten the Celtics into their game.

The Bulls had a good plan and continued to run out on whichever Celtic player penetrated deep, whether he scored or not. A few minutes into the second quarter, the Bulls went ahead 36-35 as Miller made two plays and then hit a three.

Yes, game on.

“Both teams are going to battle,” said Del Negro. “We know how tough they are. They are world champions for a reason. They’re tough. They’ve got experienced guys. Paul, Ray, and Rondo put so much pressure on you. We’re going to have to make some adjustments and hopefully get back home and let our crowd get us going a little bit. But no matter where you play, you have to play hard, and I thought we did at times tonight. But the rebounding was really the difference.”

Rondo went down hard with about five minutes left in the first half and got his leg caught under him when Rose blocked him on a runout after a Miller turnover. Rondo left the game, and it looked bad for the Celtics. The next play Davis laid a hard, near flagrant foul on Gordon, who calmly went to the line and made both. The Bulls would then begin to pull away behind Gordon and led 61-58 at halftime.

Tyrus Thomas got into the act with a brutally hard foul on Allen as the Celtics inched ahead in the third quarter as Allen finally began finding the basket.

“Games I’ve been in, that’s as good as I’ve seen,” said Rivers of Allen’s second half. “Especially when you factor in (Allen) had to chase Gordon all around who was on fire as well. It was a UCONN shootout. That’s what if felt like at one point. So, I mean, he had to be exhausted on one end. And then making shots on the other. But Ray makes big shots. And that’s what we said in the time out. That if we can get him open, guys, he didn’t need much room. It was almost personal. That either one wasn;t going to give into the other guy. It almost looked like they turned into a personal battle. You know, who’s the best UConn player to ever play. And it was amazing. It was amazing.”

It was on and Gordon had 11 in the third and Allen 16 as the Celtics took an 88-87 lead into the fourth quarter.

It was a beauty with the Bulls looking like they had it after Gordon’s back to back threes for that five-point lead in the last four minutes.

But Gordon threw up a miss, Rose laid the ball off to Miller, who didn’t move aggressively enough for it and Boston recovered. Rondo ran out to get within 109-108 with 1:54 left, and it might have been a good time to get Tyrus Thomas back into the game after his overtime heroics from Game 1.

Gordon threw in an amazing baseline floater with 1:47 left for a 111-108 lead. The Bulls fouled Davis, who made both, and then Noah missed inside when Gordon dropped the ball off when he was doubled.

“The games are won on so little,” said Noah. “I missed that chippie at the end. We showed the Celtics we’re going to be there.”

Rondo then got Noah on a switch, held the ball and stepped back with shot clock time running out and hit a 20 footer with a minute left to give Boston a 112-111 lead. Then it was Gordon and Allen. Gordon hit a pair of twos. Allen hit a pair of threes.

You didn’t want that one to end. The Bulls certainly didn’t want it to end that way. Though it’s got to be the Celtics wondering what they’ve got themselves into here. Games 3 and 4 in Chicago. Series even. Bulls with home court advantage now. Celtics’ defense giving up 110 points per game at home. Second seed? Sixty-two wins? Against seventh seed and 41 wins. How’d you like those Bulls now? It is a whole new season.

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