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Is This Bulls/Celtics Series One of the Greatest Ever?
by Sam Smith
Posted on Apr 27
The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or their Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.
So how does this Bulls-Celtics playoff series compare with the best you’ve ever seen?
That seems to be the question I am most being asked after Sunday’s double overtime spectacular that evened the series at 2-2 with Game 5 here Tuesday. I am asked, ‘What’s with the vest and saddle shoes” as well. But that’s not very interesting.
I am asked about Ben Gordon’s defense and Tyrus Thomas’ dribbling and Vinny Del Negro’s substitutions. Though that stuff really is irrelevant given what has been going on in these games.
There’s some great stuff with three Celtics averaging at least 20 per game and Rajon Rondo averaging a triple double. While Gordon is averaging a career best 24.8 per game with six Bulls averaging in double figures and Brad Miller 8.8 with almost no one else playing.
I don’t know how truly great the players are. But they are making great plays at big times in dramatic situations. And that’s really the best of sports.
They are making plays the draw smiles, a perplexed head shake and lots of, “Gee,” and “Did you see that?” responses.
It’s pretty darned good basketball, too, since the games, with one exception, have been standoffs in drama and highlights.
ESPN already showed Sunday’s game as a so called “Instant Classic” Monday.
I wrote after Game 2 that we were witnessing basketball history in this series with Derrick Rose’s brilliant debut and the all around remarkable play of Rondo, and then the Gordon/Ray Allen overtime shootout.
Game 3’s Bulls meltdown seemed to have made the first two an aberration. Until the Game 4 masterpiece: Double overtime. Gordon and Allen again with amazing threes, comeback after comeback, high drama transcending the stakes of a first round series.
I am reasonably certain we will not see a better series in these playoffs.
But what about others?
It’s difficult to rank the best, though we seem to demand that in our Top Ten world. It’s like ranking your children. You might have preferences. But you don’t really want to diminish any.
So I’ll accept second guessing and some suggestions of yours in case I missed any. I’m sure I will. I didn’t exactly see all of these. But I knew about the ones that weren’t on TV since I began following the NBA sometime in the late 1950’s. Since I did see all of Michael Jordan’s—and we generally accept him as the best—I’ll start with one of those.
Here’s the best playoff series in my NBA history, which I start with Bill Russell and the beginning of the Celtics dynasty in 1956-57. I can’t recall seeing that one on TV, and I don’t know if it was even on. But I did collect basketball cards from that season and how great a series must that have been. Games 1 and 7 of the Finals against the St. Louis Hawks went into double overtime. And Game 6 was a two pointer. Russell had 19 points and 32 rebounds in Game 7 (lots of missed shots then) and current Celts broadcaster Tommy Heinsohn had 37 points and 23 rebounds.
- Bulls/Suns Finals, 1993. That was John Paxson’s three for the win when it looked like Game 7. There was a triple overtime, Jordan and Charles Barkley throwing 50-point games at one another, the Suns’ “Save the City” win in Game 5 in Chicago down 3-1 when the mayor was warning not to riot when the Bulls won. Great stuff.
- Pistons/Celtics Eastern Conference Finals 1988. Actually, this is an entry with the 1987 conference finals seven gamer that featured Larry Bird’s famous steal of Isiah Thomas’ inbounds pass and Adrian Dantley and Vinnie Johnson knocking eachother out in Game 7 going for a loose ball and costing the game. They met again the following year when Detroit finally broke through with an overtime win and a double overtime win in the old Boston Garden in the series in which Robert Parish punched out Bill Laimbeer in front of referee Mike Mathis and no foul was called. Yes, the refs hated Laimbeer, too.
- Celtics/Lakers Finals, 1962. Boston won Game 7 in overtime as Russell had 30 points and 40 rebounds. Jerry West hit a game winner in Game 3 and Elgin Baylor probably had the best Finals game ever with 61 points and 22 rebounds in the Game 4 Lakers’ loss.
- Spurs and Mavericks Western Conference finals 2006. There were two overtime games, including game 7 in San Antonio as Dallas won when Manu Ginobili fouled Dirk Nowitzki to give Nowitzki a three-point play to tie it. Two other games were decided by a point.
- Bulls/Jazz Finals, 1998. There was the overtime in Game 1 and Jordan’s posed closing shot in Game 6. There was one amazing stinker in the middle when Utah scored 54 points (like in this current Bulls/Celtics series). But the other three games were decided by five or fewer.
- Lakers/Kings Western Conference finals, 2002. This was the one with Robert Horry’s amazing three to avoid a 3-1 deficit, a seventh game in overtime and back to back one-point games.
- Celtics/76ers Eastern Conference finals, 1965. That was the famous Havlicek steals the ball seventh game with an earlier overtime win by the 76ers in the first series with Wilt back in the East.
- Knicks/Bullets Eastern Division semifinals, 1970. This is a personal favorite. The opener was double overtime. But it was the classic Hall of Fame matchup at virtually every position with Reed against Unseld, DeBusschere against Gus Johnson, Bradley against Jack Marin, Monroe against Frazier. It was brilliant stuff in the era before double teaming help, traps and zones. You had to stop your man and no crying.
- Celtics/Bucks Finals, 1974. Game 2 went overtime and Kareem won Game 6 in double overtime with the sky hook before the Celtics took it in Game 7.
- Cavaliers/Wizards first round, 2006. It was just a wild one with the last two games going into overtime and a one pointer in Game 3 in the six game series the Cavs won. The next year, LeBron had that amazing 48 in Detroit in the conference finals in double overtime before winning in six.
- Celtics/76ers Eastern Conference finals, 1981. There wasn’t an overtime game. But Bird and Dr. J battled it out with four of the seven games decided by two points and a fifth by one point, Game 7.
- Nuggets/Supersonics Western Conference opening round, 1994. That was the famous Dikembe Mutombo clutching the ball in the first great eight over one upset with the last two games decided in overtime. That was a classic playoffs with the Jazz taking out the Nuggets in the semifinals in a series with an overtime and a double overtime game. The other Western semifinal between the Suns and Rockets also was a terrific seven gamer with an overtime game. Too bad it ended in one of the worst Finals ever in Houston’s gruesome, slowdown seven gamer over the Knicks.
- Rockets/Supersonics Western Conference semifinals 1987. While the East was drawing more attention with the looming Boston/Detroit matchup, the Rockets and Supersonics played a riveting six gamer with a double overtime Game 6, an earlier overtime game and another decided by a basket.
- Suns/Lakers opening round, 2006. The Suns played a bunch of great series in their short run. But this had a pair of overtime games and the Suns coming back from down 3-1 to win.
- Pacers/Knicks Eastern Conference semifinals, 1995. An overtime games, two others, including Game 7, decided by a basket and another by one point. Hard to catch your breath.
So where does Bulls/Celtics 2009 fit in this?
You’ve already got a pair of overtime games, one double overtime. You’ve got shots to win and tie games. Top 10 somewhere? It may well be.