Bulls Even Up The Greatest Series Ever Played


May 1

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It couldn’t have happened. Not again! But it did. The Bulls and defending NBA champion Boston Celtics Thursday played yet another emotionally wrenching overtime game in this amazing, wonderful, thrilling, history making first round playoff series that is now headed to Game 7 in Boston Saturday after the fourth overtime game of the series, a 128-127 triple overtime Bulls win.

With seven overtime periods in the six games, this is heading to the first eight-game playoff in NBA history. Stop asking. There never has been anything like this. No NBA playoff series has ever seen more than four overtime periods, and the last one to have that many was 52 years ago. No NBA playoff series has had more than two overtime games. Nothing, really, even comes close to this.

“You're numb to being tired,” said John Salmons, who led the Bulls with 35 points, though was just a part of the story.  “Your whole body is numb to aches and pains because it's bigger than aches and pains.  It's bigger than being tired.  That's what wanting to win real bad is all about, just being numb to all those other things.  It doesn't matter. As tired as I am,  I probably won’t be able to sleep tonight. I’ll be up all night thinking about the game.

“It’s got to be the greatest series ever,” said Salmons. “Can’t expect no less in Game 7.”

Yes, Game 7, the ultimate in sports.

Hardly anyone thought the .500 Bulls would get there, yet they have a chance to win this series. Now, it’s all past. Home court, momentum, veteran experience. Forget it. Each team has won on the other’s court. Each team has won and lost with big shots, smart and dumb plays, coughed up leads and grabbed them away when it seemed impossible.

It’s one game to declare yourself the winner of arguably the best, definitely the most exciting, series the NBA ever has seen.

“I don’t even know what to say about this series,” said Paul Pierce, who supported Ray Allen’s uncanny 51 points with 22 points and nine rebounds. “It’s been a phenomenal series. If I have to sit back and I wasn’t a player, I’d say this is great for fans. Everyone’s getting their money’s worth. It’s Game 7 and we’ll be ready.

“Right now,” said Pierce, “it just comes down to who has more toughness, who has the most heart. Game 7, at this point, we know what they’re trying to do. They know what we're trying to do. The team with the most heart and toughness is going to win Game 7.”

You couldn’t measure that in this series, and you really hate to see a loser. Though Bulls fans after the controversial finish to Game 5 in Boston with Rajon Rondo’s hard and seeming flagrant foul on Brad Miller decisive made their feelings known with game long nasty chants aimed at Rondo all game.

But that seemed forgotten—and perhaps it was some poetic justice—when Rondo’s 12-foot attempt at a game winner with 7.9 seconds left was blocked by Derrick Rose.

A few seconds later, Rose was fouled and missed both free throws. But the Celtics, this time, were the ones out of time outs and all they could do was watch Rondo heave up a half court miss, and then watch the Bulls and an arena take a deep breath.

Joakim Noah, who’d just made perhaps the play of the game with a steal from Pierce and slam dunk for a 126-123 lead with 35.5 seconds left in the third overtime, then began the celebration with a victory lap around the United Center floor slapping hands with fans.

Noah then grabbed the microphone from post game host Steve Kashul and bellowed, “Woooooooo! I really don’t even know what happened,” Noah screamed to the fans. “But I’m so happy.”

So I’ll remind him. This era of sports is filled with top 10 lists of the best plays (well, 12 in this case). So maybe that’s the best way to deal with this one. I actually made a point after the game of going around to the players in the locker room and asking them the biggest moment or play or what they remember most vividly.

Not one could give me an answer. They were all so caught up, as Salmons would say, “in the moment,” that most just shrugged and looked puzzled.

Brad Miller, who got his redemption and revenge the right way by making plays and hitting big shots and free throws, joked about being able to make free throws (five of five, all in the overtimes) when not woozy.

Kirk Hinrich talked about being glad his missed open layup with 21.9 seconds left in the third overtime and the Bulls up one (when Rondo seemed to have interfered with the ball in the cylinder without a call) didn’t cost the game. Ben Gordon, who fouled out late in the first overtime, said he thought he was having an anxiety attack on the bench.

“It was mind boggling some of the stuff happening out there,” Gordon said. “Guys were hitting amazing shots. Guys were making really big plays. It seemed like every play down the stretch, we’d get up by three and they kept getting open and making big plays. It probably happened 50 or 60 times. I thought we’d steal the game or lose the game and something else ended up happened. It was nerve racking.

“If they didn’t know (about us) before the series,” said Gordon. “They definitely know now.”

So here are your plays of the game:

1.   Noah’s steal, full court breakaway dunk and foul to draw Pierce’s sixth and free throw for that three-point lead with 35.5 seconds left in the third overtime.

“Once I got the steal, I thought I would get fouled right away,” said Noah, who had nine points and a game-high 15 rebounds. “But I just dribbled it down the court.  The foul never came.  I just dunked it in.”

Said Miller: “I didn’t know if (Joakim) was going to dribble it off his foot or if he’d make it all the way. I saw the hair moving fast. These young guys with the athleticism. They are making plays.”

2.   Rose’s block on Rondo. Why Rondo didn’t find Allen was curious as Rondo lined up to shoot with 7.9 seconds left when he was four of 16 at the time. Rose got it going up with his left hand.

“Derrick Rose made a great play,” said Allen.

“It was a one on one deal,” said Rose. “I just was trying to get a stop or trying to get him to take a bad shot.”

3. Ray Allen’s three in the first overtime to tie the game at 118 with 7.6 seconds left. The Bulls never got a shot off afterward as Miller fumbled the inbounds pass. Allen was amazing with 18 of 32 and nine of 18 threes.

“I’ve seen enough of Ray Allen’s threes with less than five seconds to last a lifetime,” said Miller.

Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro said the play was to foul Allen to avoid a three.

“We tried to foul him,” said Del Negro.  I told Lindsey (Hunter) to foul him right in front of our bench.  They didn’t call it.  If you foul him too hard, that's not good.  But we wanted to foul with the three point lead and put him on the line.  We just did not execute it well and Ray hit a great shot with a hand in his face.  That is what great players do.”

Said Allen: “It was a lot of opportunities I had I was kicking myself. I had 50 or 51 and I was thinking how much more it could have been and we could have won and how I let so many easy ones slip away, the opportunities we had as a team. It’s very bittersweet. There’s nothing to talk about. We lost and you have that agony that it wasn’t enough.”

4. Brad Miller’s three from on top with 1:06 left in regulation to bring the Bulls within 101-99 after they’d trailed by eight with under three minutes left. And after Tony Allen missing for a second straight time, Miller faking Kendrick Perkins and driving past for a layup to tie the game at 101 with 29.7 seconds left in regulation. Miller would finish with 23 points and 10 rebounds.

This time—and throughout the game—the Bulls doubled and trapped on Pierce, who missed a 16 footer and Gordon couldn’t make a winner as the game went into the first overtime.

“I thought Brad Miller was the savior for them,” said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. “We gave up the three and then the drive and that was the difference. Miller was the savior.”

5. Salmons’ driving layup to tie the game at 109 in the first overtime with 23.5 seconds left. And then Pierce futile in trying to get off a 15 footer with Hinrich, Salmons and Rose all coverging.

“For me it’s the significance of the game,” said Salmons. Maybe the shot in overtime. Being in the moment. Winning a game we had to win. It showed how much character both teams had. They kept making shots. We kept making shots.”

Salmons also starred in the second overtime with a three with Allen up tight on him and then a drive and switching hands to go up lefty and get fouled for a three-point play with two minutes left to give the Bulls a 116-113 lead.

Allen then hit a jumper from the right corner in which he barely was touching the three-point line and it was ruled a two. The referees replayed it and agreed with 20 seconds left. Miller then hit two free throws, opening it for Allen’s three to tie.

6. Rose’s driving layup with 2:48 left in regulation to get the Bulls within 99-93. This game was over. The Bulls had led 88-76 with just over 10 minutes left in the game when they stopped moving the ball and fell into their one-on-one play and went more than six minutes without scoring. Boston led 99-91 on a Pierce three and it looked like Rondo could wrap it up as he was fouled on the next possession by Miller. But he gagged both free throws, and then Rose refused to yield and put his head down and scored. Rondo then forced up a miss at the shot clock as the Celtics began to sit on the ball, and Salmons drove and scored and was fouled by Perkins and suddenly the Bulls trailed 99-96 with 2:08 left.

“We gave up a couple of uncontested shots for three and the three point play and next thing you looked up and the game was tied up and we were like, ‘Man, still time on the clock,’” said Pierce. “When you have a team on the ropes like that and you’re on the road you’ve got to take it from them. We definitely had our opportunities those last couple of minutes. We should have been a lot more aggressive instead of letting time run out.”

7. Glen Davis’ 10-footer with 40 seconds left in the first overtime to give Boston a 109-107 lead. The Bulls were aggressively overplaying both Pierce and Allen, and Davis hit some big shots, including a three-point play to give Boston its first lead in the third overtime and the Celtics’ first two scores of the second overtime. He finished with 23 on 10 of 18 shooting, but fouled out along with Perkins and Pierce.

8. Perkins’ block of Salmons’ three with the Bulls down five with four minutes left in regulation, and then his rebound of an Allen miss and pass out to Pierce for the three to give Boston the eight-point lead with 3:38 left.

“We were down in the fourth and game back and took the lead and we stopped playing,” said Rivers. “We tried to hold on and that's not how we got the lead. Overtimes are overtime. Guys foul out and things like that but you've got an eight-point lead in the fourth quarter and we just stopped playing. Give them credit. With an eight point lead if you are a good defensive team you literally don't have to score again.”

9. Pierce’s pump fakes for fouls and four free throws, which brought the Celtics back from a 107-103 deficit with under two minutes left in the first overtime. Rose then committed his fifth turnover and the Celtics went on to take a brief lead before Salmons tied it. Rose, though, opened the third overtime fast with a 20 footer and he then scooped up a rebound the Celtics had but lost amidst three guys and was there to pick it up and score, the kind of opportunistic plays Rose was making all game to finish with 28 points, eight assists and seven rebounds.

“I thought Derrick was solid all game,” said Del Negro.  “In the fourth quarter and overtime he tried some passes in the paint a little tight.  But everyone contributed.”

10. Noah’s offensive rebounds in the third quarter. With Boston coming hard after halftime as they’ve done most of this series and scoring on their first seven possessions to take a lead, Noah rebounded his own miss and scored and then a Tyrus Thomas miss and scored again to keep the Bulls within 71-70. The Bulls then closed the third with threes from Salmons, a celebrating Miller and Hinrich and no one had any idea how much more there was to play.

“Words can't really describe it right now,” said Noah.  “It's emotional, but at the same time I understand that we haven't accomplished anything yet.  I'm just really excited that we're still alive.  We were really close to death today.  I feel like every game is like that.  It's such a roller coaster but I'm having so much fun out there.  I really feel blessed to be in this situation. It's special to be part of this series that people will be talking about for a long time.”

11. Salmons’ hot start. He scored 16 points in the first quarter to take the attention off all the hard foul stuff and give the Bulls a 30-18 lead. More importantly, it pushed the pace on the Celtics, who have abandoned much pretext of being a great defensive team. All and Pierce combined for 19 in the quarter and took turns going at Gordon, whom Del Negro lifted early this time for Hinrich and better defense. Hinrich played 43 minutes, and Gordon was also in foul trouble and shot just four of 14.

“Ben did not have his usual pop and speed,” said Del Negro.  “He was fighting through a lot of picks chasing Ray Allen around the floor.  Whenever Ben is on the floor he is a threat.  We are going to need him for Game seven in Boston.  Ben has made so many great plays of us and then Kirk stepped in and was great.  We are going to have to play the best game of the series.  There is no pressure on us.  The pressure is all on them.  They are at home, they are the defending champions.“

12 . The inevitable near fight. That was late in the first when Rondo and Hinrich tangled with Rondo throwing Hinrich off him and Hinrich coming back in what initially looked like it could mean ejections. Tyrus Thomas and Mikki Moore also briefly went at one another in the melee before everyone was separated after some yelling. Rondo was assessed a flagrant foul and Hinrich a technical foul and both remained.

“I got up and shoved (Rondo)," said Hinrich. "I don’t know who stepped between us. I don’t think he threw a punch at me. It was one of those things where you get caught up in the moment and you just try to bring yourself back down. We’re competing hard and there’s a lot of stuff going on between the teams. Just trying to get the better of one another. I thought it would be what called. I think the ruling unless you take a swing you don’t get ejected. It was a basic scuffle and it was treated that way. I was just trying to box him out. I guess he thought I was doing too much. He threw me away and I went back and pushed him and that was it.”

No, one more. And it no longer seems enough.

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