On Second Thought, Game 2 Even Better


Apr 21

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The story of the NBA playoffs in the first week is the Bulls, and the game of the playoffs is Monday night’s thriller in Boston in which the defending champion Boston Celtics held on for a 118-115 victory to even the series at 1-1 with Game 3 in the United Center Thursday.

“That’s probably one of the better sprees,” Ben Gordon said of Monday’s game in which he scored 42 points, most on a stunning array of highlight degree of difficulty shots. “It was a big game. I’m just disappointed we lost.”

The final result for the Bulls and their fans likely overshadowed what the rest of the nation saw.

Perhaps one of the best NBA playoff games in years.

After the Bulls and Celtics played a terrific one in the Bulls 105-103 overtime opener victory in which Derrick Rose had 36 points.

The combination of the Celtics fate—which hardly anyone believes is to go far anymore, likely not even out of the first round—and Rose’ official introduction to the NBA playoff world has made the Bulls the story of these playoffs.

They now look like favorites with no Garnett, home court advantage and the Celtics learning Tuesday Leon Powe will be out for the rest of the playoffs with a serious knee injury. The Celtics will try to bring back Brian Scalabrine, who has been suffering from post concussion syndrome.

“Scal’s going to play if the doctors say he’s going to play,” Rivers said after Game 2. “It would be great if he could. We need him. We need him bad. We don’t have enough bigs. But if he can’t play, he can’t play. We’ll just find a way.”

The Celtics Tuesday seemed to feel there was a better chance he might play, though they seem in big trouble with so called “bigs.”

Their bench has been a disaster with Mikki Moore and Stephon Marbury adding almost nothing. The big statistic of Game 2 for the Celtics was rebounds as they controlled the boards with 50-36 edge and a massive 32-12 on second chance points.

Though Joakim Noah and Tyrus Thomas have been playing more consistently, they aren’t strong and can be pushed around when in a half court game. So you figure the Celtics will try to stick with that and batter the Bulls inside. Though they’re likely wishing and hoping if they think Glen “Big Baby” Davis is going to come up with 26 points again.

Rajon Rondo has been their best player in the series. But he sprained an ankle and won’t practice before Game 3. The Bulls could have gone at him more to test him in the second half Monday, and they probably will in Game 3.

Though they would even if his ankle wasn’t bad.

“I like the tempo,” Gordon said Tuesday. “But they’re pretty good too. Rondo is like a one-man fast break. If we can corral him and slow him down and still push the tempo like we like to do, that’s in our favor.”

The Celtics have had no answer for the Bulls speed and fast break game in the series, especially trying to play with the lumbering Davis and Kendrick Perkins.

You wonder if the Celtics might try downsizing to try to beat the Bulls at their own game.

Maybe play Paul Pierce at power forward and Ray Allen at small forward to try to match the Bulls offense. Assuming Rondo is OK, maybe play Eddie House at shooting guard to spread the floor better.

Which is where Pierce would come in.

If he decides to play in this series.

“I kept telling him, ‘They’re not coming,’” Rivers said on the double teaming strategy Pierce has expected from the Bulls. “I think Paul kept looking for double teams. We worked on so much film and showed them all the double teams and how we were going to space. Maybe I spooked him out. We really worked on our spacing. I thought we gave him a ton of space. But he was almost waiting for someone to come for double teams. And so we’ll watch some more. We’re going to need him, and he can do it. That’s the good news for us. We’ve (split) two games where Paul hasn’t been great. Ray wasn’t great in one.”

So can a player fighting for a reputation for a decade lose it in one or two weeks?

For years, Pierce was generally regarded around the NBA as a lazy, selfish scorer who didn’t play hard. That changed with Garnett, who motivated Pierce like no one had. It’s perhaps why before Game 2 started, Garnett was on the Celtics bench practically screaming in Pierce’s ear.

It apparently didn’t work as Pierce came out soft again. He’s averaging 20.5 points, but has been little factor.

The irony is the Bulls most worried about one of his pet plays, a high screen /roll in the middle that’s hard to help to. They feared Pierce would constantly go to it to create mismatches with smaller players. He hasn’t.

It’s left the Bulls breathing a bit easier.

You get the feeling Pierce knows it’s over without Garnett and doesn’t care to put forth much more effort without the ultimate reward.

You could see how desperate the Celtics were just to win a game with Rivers jubilant and celebrating when Pierce hit that game winner. It seemed a bit over the top for a first weekend of the first week at home. But Rivers knows he doesn’t have what he had last year.

Rivers, a connoisseur of the game, likely also realizes the brilliance he witnessed Monday.

I know we tend in this era to declare everything we just saw the best there’s ever been. I recall watching the Super Bowl last February and after the game the SportsCenter highlight show picking the top 10 Super Bowl plays ever and four or five were from that game. Could it be?

Of course not. But everyone wants to believe what they witnessed was history.

What Gordon and Allen and the Bulls and Celtics did was historic.

You don’t see many better games than that.

“It probably was a great game to watch,” admitted Kirk Hinrich.

Some might complain about a lack of defense. But great defense doesn’t stop great offense in the NBA. You don’t stop the great scorers, and on Monday, at least, Gordon and Allen were as good as anyone.

I loved Allen, who is perhaps the most gentlemanly man in the NBA, saying how difficult it is to guard Gordon because Gordon doesn’t need screens to score. Gordon is so uniquely strong in his legs he can clear space and get his shot off against almost anyone.

The Bulls aren’t going to play much defense, anyway.

It’s OK. Their strength is scoring, and you go to your strength. It’s worked as they drew the Celtics into high scoring games twice. It also shows how much better Garnett is even than anyone thought. The notion that the Celtics are Pierce’s team is a joke. The Celtics have been the league’s best defensive team. Without Garnett, they were one of the worst. That cannot be coincidence.

It was 35-29 after one quarter Monday and you could see already this game would be something. It was 88-87 heading into the fourth quarter, a wild one for the ages with 18 lead changes and four ties. There were 26 lead changes in Game 1 and 17 ties. Those boxing analogies get used too often, but this was one of those blow for blow exchanges that are rare in sports.

Those were impossible shots Gordon and Allen were throwing in, the kinds of shots you gasped after seeing go in. And there was that amazing Rose save out of bounds after the block on Pierce and shortly thereafter Rose getting a huge offensive rebound among three Celtics and scoring.

Allen, of course, hit the terrific winner. But Gordon was driving hard and pulling up, like on that impossible baseline angle seemingly behind the basket, with Allen in his face on the last two, the threes, hitting five of his last six shots, all well defended, and scoring the team’s last 12 points.

It’s special stuff. And Allen tipping that miss and getting it back, hitting the winner with Joakim Noah coming hard at him, four threes in all in the fourth with the Celtics season and championship defense on the line. Lose and they were done.

This has the makings of one of the great series.

“It was a lot of fun,” Gordon said Tuesday. “Two competitors like we are. Game came down to who had last possession. It was a great shootout.

Everybody wanted to play again right when the game was over. Anxiety is building up. We’re excited to get back out there and play.”

We’re excited to watch.


One of the issues after Game 2 was the Bulls left without a timeout after Allen’s winner. It also happened after Game 1, though the Bulls won. The Bulls could only try a halfcourt shot instead of being able to advance the ball and try a play with a player like Gordon so hot.

“We definitely wish we would’ve reserved one of those timeouts,” said Gordon. “But that’s how the game went. It’s a thing of the past.”

Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro defended to reporters Tuesday at practice his use of timeouts and said if he hadn’t taken some earlier the game might not even have come down to a last shot chance.

“You always want to try to keep a timeout,” Del Negro said. “But you also always want to try to keep yourself in the game. There’s no need to save your timeouts if you’re down 15 points or 10 or 12. When they’re making runs or when we get the ball with 20 seconds left and we’re down two, I want to make sure we get a good shot. If we don’t execute well and set something up, especially with a young team, then they’re shooting free throws and the game is probably over. I would’ve liked to have one at the end. But sometimes you can keep them and sometimes you have to use them to stay in the game.

“People are going to second guess and first guess,” said Del Negro. “So what? I don’t care. I’m the coach. I will make the decisions. That’s the way it is. In two or three seconds, the ball is going to go to Derrick because he’s our fastest guy to get it up the court. We set up a play in the Celtics’ timeout. We didn’t execute it because the Celtics did a good job with their execution. And that’s the end of the game.

Regrets? Del Negro was asked.

“No, not at all,” he said. “Not a second.”

Del Negro also has used Brad Miller to finish games and has left Noah or Tyrus Thomas out. Monday it was Thomas sitting out most of the fourth quarter, and their use late will be another issue to watch for Game 3.

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