Bulls Season Over with Game 7 Loss


May 3

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BOSTON–The Bulls first round playoff series with the Boston Celtics was a great story with a lame ending, a thriller with twists and turns, high drama and great theater. And then the butler did it.

In the end, this conclusion didn’t match the buildup. The Celtics won 109-99 in Game 7 here Saturday thanks to 16 points and four three pointers off the bench from Eddie House and eight points and a pair of three pointers from Jackie Moon, who looks like Brian Scalabrine.

In the series with five of the first six games going down to the last possession of regulation, four overtime games and seven overtime periods, 170 ties or lead changes, there were two lead changes in the game and zero ties.

The Celtics took control with a 22-2 run over the last 7:39 of the second quarter. That gave the Celtics a 52-38 halftime lead, and though the Bulls got within three midway through the fourth quarter, Ben Gordon had a three blocked and the Celtics continued to play an NFL like prevent defense, falling back into a shell like zone to protect the paint and encourage jump shots.

It was two staggering fighters trying to hold one another up until the final bell.

You almost expected both teams to collapse into one another arms in relief and resignation.

“I definitely think it was one of the best series ever,” said free agent to be Ben Gordon, who could have played his final game in a Bulls uniform. “If it was any other round it could be the best ever. I’m not going to go that far and say it was the best ever. It was definitely right up there with one of the most competitive series. I’m really proud of the way my team gave it a great effort against the defending champs.

“I’m really happy with the (young players’) development, confidence they had in themselves and energy they are bringing on a consistent basis,” Gordon said. “That’s not something we always had at the beginning of the year. Ray (Allen said to me after the game),’We did our school proud.’ He told me to rally the young guys together and we can be a really good team.

“We gave, I thought, our best effort against a really good team and in the end that’s all you can ask,” said Gordon. “That team has a lot more experience than us. Most people wouldn’t have expected us to go to a Game 7. I think we did all we could. Like a lot of other games in this series, we had our chances to win. But they made more plays. We didn’t shoot the ball particularly well. We had some good looks. Things just didn’t go our way. Just didn’t make shots. Simple as that. No excuses. I’ll remember the way we fought as a team. We never gave up. Every game we had a chance to win except for Game 3. I honestly believe we could have won this series. But we didn’t.”

Neither Boston star, Paul Pierce nor Allen, was particularly sharp. Allen led with 23 points on six of 14 shooting and Pierce had 20 on six of 17 shooting.

They were gassed after all this, and they knew it. Everyone, really, was.

“Definitely the toughest (playoff series) I’ve been a part of,” said Allen. “They gave us everything that we could handle. I told (Rajon) Rondo after the game, ‘They were probably the toughest match up that we’ve had.’ If I go back to even last year. Because they have guys that, one, two, three, are capable of scoring 40 a night and it definitely put a crunch on our defense.”

Gordon led the Bulls with 33 points, but was one of nine in the fourth quarter and two of 14 overall in the second half. Derrick Rose added 18 points, but was scoreless in the fourth quarter with just one shot attempt.

“I’m still the point guard,” said Rose. “I can’t come down and shoot five, seven shots in a row. I’ve still got to look at people, get people open. After I got my shots off, I made sure my teammates can shoot. It’s heartbreaking knowing we can’t move on. We took them to Game 7 and it was fun.”

Asked what he’d work on, Rose said: “Becoming a leader. I’ve got to lead the team. Got to control the game a little more as a point guard.”

It didn’t happen as the Bulls never could put much together. Fatigue? Pressure of the situation? Inexperience?

After that brilliant effort in the Game 6 triple overtime, John Salmons was three of 12 for 12 points. Tyrus Thomas played just 17 minutes and had four points as the Bulls played small often. Joakim Noah had a game high 15 rebounds, though he and Brad Miller fouled out. Both did deliver hard hits on Rondo. The Bulls shot 39 percent, and in being outscored 29-11 in the second quarter they committed nine turnovers and spent too much time after that going one-on-one and firing jumpers.

They also were betrayed once again by the lack of a cohesive defensive system as their switching and doubling and rotations seemed inconsistent. It’s got to be a priority for next season.

“I felt like we had a really good first quarter, but the second quarter we got very stagnant with our ball movement, too many turnovers,” noted Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro. “We only had six assists at the half and against a team like Boston who loads up on that strong side so well on your penetration you got to move the basketball better then we did. I thought we played more physical a lot tougher in the second half, tried to spread them out with a smaller line-up, but we just couldn’t make enough shots to put any real pressure on them. I’m really just proud of the way my players fought. They played hard and I think as a coach, what you’re looking for first are guys that are going to play hard. They care and so I couldn’t be happier, prouder with that. I feel like the team made a lot of strides this year. We had our opportunities in this series but give the Celtics a lot of credit. They made plays down the stretch. They’re a veteran team that’s why they’re the defending world champs.”

It doesn’t seem like for long, though the Celtics could get by the Orlando Magic in the second round. They don’t seem much of a match for the Cleveland Cavaliers and should be out on their feet by then with the Celtics insisting Kevin Garnett and Leon Powe won’t return in these playoffs.

“Tip my hat off to the Bulls because you really didn’t expect them to come in and play the way they did throughout the whole seven games,” said Pierce.  “We expected them to play hard. But they really pushed us to the limit, and this was a great, great series. Thank goodness we were battle-tested and we were able to pull this out in seven games.  Next year, as I was able to tell some of their guys, if they can bring their team back, and get Luol Deng healthy, they’re going to be tough to beat.”

The Bulls were easy to beat in Game 3 back in Chicago, and they looked like they might be tough to beat even in Game 7.

They scored on eight of their first nine possessions with Gordon and Rose each hitting their first two jumpers and driving the ball at the Celtics and already beginning to put them in foul trouble, Glen Davis going out less than five minutes in with two fouls.

Rose made a spectacular block from behind on Scalabrine, who seemed to be going in alone for a breakaway dunk. The Bulls were pushing the pace, getting the game quicker as they preferred. They led 27-23 after one quarter. The home crowd wasn’t quite boisterous anymore. The Bulls seemingly had lost a point as a Gordon three was called a two. But that finally was caught in the fourth quarter and the point added back to the Bulls score.

And then depression set in, to quote Bill Murray from Stripes, one of those films with a wonderful start and disappointing ending.

After Tyrus Thomas hit a jumper to make it 36-30 with eight minutes left in the first half, the mistakes began: A Thomas turnover, a shot clock violation, a Noah turnover, a Gordon turnover after a Rose miss, four turnovers in five possessions. The Celtics trapped Gordon and pressured, dropping off the Bulls interior players and Gordon gave another one up. Miller c

ommitted an offensive foul. Hinrich came in and turned one over and then Miller dribbled around too much. The Bulls wouldn’t get a field goal after that Thomas jumper.

“I think we tired them out,” said Allen. “We just ran in transition (14-5 edge in Celtics fast breaks). Defensively, we just put hands in their face and we didn’t foul as much and send them to the free throw line, but consistently we made them take tougher shots and they didn’t make them, a lot of those shots they’ve been hitting all series.”

In the meantime, the Celtics bench, pathetic for six games, arrived just in time to save the day. Especially their Mighty Mouse, House, who rained in a pair of threes during that 22-2 run.  House has a mouth that roars as well and he picked up a technical for taunting the Bulls bench when he hit a three in front.

“We hadn’t used our bench much,” said Celtics coach Doc Rivers (House was the bench’s leading scorer at four per game).  Eddie House, Mikki Moore comes in and gets four points and a charge. Scalabrine was phenomenal.  Rondo didn’t feel great at the beginning of the game. I don’t know if he ate something, I don’t know what it was, but you could see it.  In a series that our bench hadn’t given us much, they were phenomenal.”

It wasn’t artful, but the Bulls did come back.

Noah even drew the same chant Rondo was getting in Chicago for taking down Rondo in the third.

“I don’t think it was a flagrant foul,” said Noah. “It was a hard foul. I think the refs made the right call. I did exactly what they were doing to us.”

The Bulls opened the second half with scores on six of their first eight possessions behind Rose, who did step into the background in the fourth quarter. A message to the others to step up?

“Derrick’s so darn good he can be as good as he wants to be,” said Hinrich. “As time goes on leadership, will come more naturally for him. Obviously, he’s going to be the leader of this team. Everyone is excited about his future. Derrick can be one of the best players of all time.”

The Bulls were scoring, but couldn’t stop the Celtics as the Bulls rotations were awful, especially late in the third quarter when Glen Davis and Pierce had multiple scores either rolling or driving to the basket. A Gordon three cut the Celtics lead to 78-71 after three quarters, and then the Bulls got going. The Celtics helped with four free throw misses in five attempts.

Hinrich began making shots, and then when Gordon, constantly trapped, hit Salmons for an easy score and Gordon converted two free throws (he was 15 of 15 for the game), the Bulls were within 89-86 with 5:39 left.

Another miracle? Another overtime?

“I’m not going to lie,” said Hinrich. “There’s a point in time this year we didn’t know we had this in us, to fight like this and play at a high level, actually from the All Star break on, but especially in this series. We definitely felt we were still in it. We needed a few breaks. It didn’t happen.  When things weren’t going good for us we went to one-on-one basketball. Everyone tried to do a little too much. Which is natural. We didn’t really have something working for us we could go to and settle us down offensively. We were a little bit frantic offensively tonight.”

The Bulls knew the way the Celtics played, so called loading to the ball. They would form sort of a human wall in front of the ball and you had to move side to side quickly to negate it. Plus, Boston was collapsing back to close the lane. So you had to swing the ball and then attack. It worked better earlier in the series when the Bulls actually tried it.

Still, they got down to that three-point deficit midway through the fourth.

Gordon’s attempt to tie was blocked and Kendrick Perkins, with 14 points and 13 rebounds, rolled and put in a Pierce assist. Salmons took most of the clock and missed, then missed an open three and took his eye off a pass for a turnover.

The Bulls were down 93-86, but again fought back with a pair of Gordon drives for four free throws, a Hinrich three and a Gordon floater. But the Bulls couldn’t get that defensive stop as Gordon flew by House and House reset for a three, Perkins got a Pierce miss and was fouled and made both and Allen with the Bulls in the penalty the last nine minutes drove and was fouled twice and made four free throws.

Finally, with the Bulls down 102-97 with 42.3 seconds left, Allen leaked out and ran ahead for a score and was fouled by Miller to seemingly end it. But Hinrich, of all guys, tipped in a Gordon miss and then stole the inbounds. But Gordon missed a jumper.

It was impressive to watch, if not always effective. The Bulls developed this rare never-give-up quality they had a few years back when they had the Wizards on the ropes and lost and then swept the Heat and took the Pistons to a sixth game. Though there’s still place for improvement. They’ve still never won a Game 7 on the road, though I did think they’d get this one the way they played the last three games.

“This game could take nothing away from our courage, our heart, how much effort we put in to trying to win the series,” said Salmons.  “It was a great series. We just couldn’t come out with the win.”

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