And to think, I was ready — several times — to dub this baby “The Free Throw Game.” As in, “Missed free throws cost the Bulls the chance to tie this series at two games a piece.” It wasn’t just the nine misses (26-for-35). It was when some of those misses occurred. You know, at the worst possible times.
First, Tyrus Thomas shanked a foul shot with 16 seconds left in regulation that could have given the Bulls a four-point cushion. Ray Allen responded by drilling a cold-blooded three-pointer to force overtime. Then, with 26 ticks left in the first overtime, Kirk Hinrich blew a freebie that could have tied the game at 107. After Paul Pierce pushed Boston’s lead to 108-106 (although he too missed a free throw), Ben Gordon got the whistle but was able to hit only one of two at the stripe, thereby failing to tie the game with nine seconds to go in that first OT. Joakim Noah had to foul Allen, who knocked down both of his foul shots to give the Celtics a 110-107 lead.
Then BG redeemed himself…in true “Air Gordon” fashion:
Perhaps the most incredible aspect of that bomb is that Gordon probably never should have gotten it off. Not quite like that, anyway. The Celtics’ gameplan called for somebody to foul Gordon before he could attempt the three…only nobody actually did it. Said Doc Rivers: “We always foul, but even when you screw it up, they’ve still got to hit the shot and Ben Gordon made a hell of a shot.” Did he ever.
I’m telling you, there are three things I will probably never fully understand: How the ancient Egyptians built the Great Pyramid, why people get suckered into buying the Snuggie, and how Ben Gordon hits those crazy shots. I mean, they’re terrible, low-percentage attempts, the kind that take entire decades off the lives of coaches everywhere. AND HE HITS THEM. It’s an ongoing mind-scrambler…but I’ll take it.
Gordon’s miracle shot might have taken something out of the Celtics, because Chicago pretty much controlled the second overtime. Sure, there were a few scary moments, like when Pierce drained a three to pull Boston to within a point with 19 seconds left. But John Salmons managed to can a couple free throws — he was a perfect 9-for-9 on the night, including 4-for-4 in the second OT — and then he blocked Pierce’s three-point attempt at the buzzer, preserving the Bulls’ 121-118 victory.
What a wild, wacky, improbable turnaround. I was fortunate enough to attend both Games 3 and 4. On Thursday, the United Center was like a funeral with beer. Today it was like a rock concert with lots of beer. The crowd got whipped into such a wild frenzy that, during halftime, I witnessed a group of rabid fans force some guy in a Celtics jersey out of a UC bathroom before he got the chance to relieve himself. (Seriously.) All that’s left of my right hand is a bloody stump after all the high fives I slapped over the course of those amazing three and a half hours. (So, you know, please excuse the typos.) It was without a doubt the best and most exciting game I’ve ever loved live. It ruined my voice, possibly forever, and I’m fairly certain my heart stopped no fewer than half a dozen times. But damn, it was worth it.
There were so many heroes on both sides of the ball. For Boston, you have to give it up for Rajon Rondo, who I am officially dubbing The Hillside Strangler. What a series he’s having. Rondo notched his second triple-double of the first four games (25 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists). That makes him the first Celtics to have two triple-doubles in the same series since Larry Bird did it back in 1986. It also makes him the first player with multiple triple-doubles in the same playoff series since Jason Kidd had three for the Nets in the 2002 Eastern Conference finals against the Celtics. Larry Legend and Jason Kidd…that’s not bad company, eh?
Then there were Ray Allen (28 points, 5-for-11 from downtown) and Paul Pierce (game-high 29 points, 6 boards, 7 assists). And it’s not just the numbers. Those guys hit big shots and made clutch plays time after time. Glen Davis had a double-double (10 points, 11 rebounds). Kendrick Perkins had 15 points, 9 rebounds and a team-high 3 blocked shots. Heck, even Brian Scalabrine hit a clutch trey in the first OT.
Unfortunately for the Celtics, the Bulls simply had more heroes. In fact, every single Chicago player who saw daylight scored in double figures. Derrick Rose nearly matched Rondo’s triple-double with 23 points, 11 rebounds, 9 assists. (Sadly, Rose also had his second straight 7-turnover game.) In addition to that big three, Gordon scored 22 and snared 6 boards. Joakim Noah went 4-for-5 from the field, blocked 3 shots and finished with a double-double (12 points, 10 rebounds). Despite a regrettable 6-for-16 shooting performance, Tyrus Thomas also had a double-double (14 points, 10 boards) and a trio of stuffs. John Salmons did a little of everything (20 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals and 3 blocks). Kirk Hinrich and Brad Miller combined for 30 points off the bench, plus Hinrich delivered some key late-game defense on Pierce. And Tim Thomas, thankfully, never got into the game.
The Bulls also stepped it up on defense. They held Boston to 42 percent shooting and forced 21 turnovers (off of which they scored 24 big points). And Salmons gave one hell of a defensive performance against Pierce, who committed 6 TOs and was a dreadful 9-for-24 from the field.
After the game Rondo said: “It’s 2-2 and we’re in a fight. Give them a lot of credit. They stuck with it. They fought back. They executed down the stretch very well and we didn’t.” Think about that. Despite those missed free throws, Chicago out-executed the Celtics in cruch time. Vinny Del Negro didn’t run himself out of timeouts. The Bulls made the big plays every time they had to. And they won, extending The Series of this year’s first round to at least six games. Oh man, what a feeling.
Update! TrueHoop Network: Zach Lowe of Celtics Hub: “The Celtics have opened a 105-100 lead with 2:00 left in the first OT after the C’s hit five straight shots to start overtime–a three by Scal (!) and two jumpers each by Pierce and Allen. The game felt like it was ours. Five straight clutch jumpers–it’s tough to lose after a streak like that. And the Bulls’ next possession looked awful–Salmons held the ball 26 feet away from the hoop on the left wing and…just held it some more, with Pierce watching him, his left hand extended. Salmons rose up for the jumper, and as he did, I thought, great, that’s exactly the shot we want here. Pierce contested nicely–not a super-aggressive contest, which the shot didn’t warrant, but good enough–and the shot went down to cut the lead to 105-103. A monster, monster shot–and one I’d live with again in that situation. This game was ours, folks. Credit to the Bulls, but the Celtics had this game in their grasp in the first overtime.”