Early on in this series, I could have accepted and might even have been pleased with a moral victory. But that was then, and right now all I can see is a wasted opportunity that — in my mind, if not yet in fact — cost my team its last best chance of advancing to the second round of the playoffs. And yeah, it left me feeling like Mr. Furious…only I have slightly better fashion sense.
The first lesson in Playoffs 101 is: It’s never over ’till it’s over. With 7:18 left in the fourth quarter, Derrick Rose hit a nifty little jumper to put the Bulls up by 10 points (83-73), and it looked like the injury-riddled and increasingly weary champions were on the ropes. Every Chicago player was fighting so hard and playing so well that it looked they were really going to steal the Leprechaun’s lucky charms. As it turned out, the exact opposite was true. The Celtics became the aggressors and suddenly the Bulls were on their heels and falling over backward. (Or, in poor Kirk Hinrich’s case, right on his face.)
Over the next five minutes, Boston went on a 14-6 run that featured three layups by Rajon Rondo to cut Chicago’s lead to two (89-87) before Vinny Del Negro finally called a timeout to jam some gauze in the wound (although not before he let seven seconds run off the shot clock). I don’t know, maybe he was afraid of running out of timeouts after all the heat he took after Game 2. Or maybe he dozed off. I can’t be sure.
Maddeningly, Joakim Noah had his layup attempt blocked coming out of that timeout. Luckily for the Bulls, John Salmons nabbed the offensive board. Less than 10 seconds later, Salmons missed a three-pointer that was rebounded by Derrick Rose, who eventually managed to convert that third chance into a layup. Unfortunately, Rondo got downcourt in a hurry and hit another layup — his fourth of the quarter — after which Salmons had a short jump shot blocked by Kendrick Perkins, which led to a fast break layup for Paul Pierce that tied the game at 91-all. Timeout Chicago.
The breather didn’t help, because Rose immediately turned the ball over. It was Derrick’s sixth bumble of the game and his 20th in the last three games. I love this kid, I really do, but damn I wish he was taking better care of the ball. The teams traded possessions before Ben Gordon squeezed past Stephon Marbury and hit an absolutely ridiculous 17-footer with 16 seconds left. (Before the shot, Doug Collins practically screamed out “What is he doing?!”) Chicago by two.
Since Ray Allen had fouled out several minutes earlier — which should have turned the game irrevocably in the Bulls’ favor, right? — the ball went to Paul Pierce, who tied the game with a cold-blooded 15-footer. One ugly and ill-advised Gordon shot later, it was on to overtime. Again.
Pierce wasn’t done. Despite the fact that his shot had been broken most of the night, Paul dropped three straight bombs — from 16, 18 and 20 feet out — in the final 77 seconds of the OT. His final dagger, that 20-footer over a suddenly shell-shocked John Salmons, gave the C’s a 106-104 lead with three seconds left. Well, crap. Seems like I read somewhere that there’s no such thing as a hot hand. I guess science lied to me again.
Three ticks of the clock isn’t a lot of time, but Chicago ran a picture perfect play that was aided by some confused Boston defense, which gave Miller a wide-open lane straight to the bucket. Rondo stepped in and clubbed Brad across the face, not even close to a play on the ball, which these days is supposed to be a flagrant foul. However, I’ve been asked to refrain from wagging any fingers at the officials, so I’m not going to complain about that particular ripoff call. (But for the record, Charles Barkley agrees with me.)
What I am going to scream and kick about is the fact that Miller — who came into this game 11-for-13 (84.6 percent) from the line for the series — shanked the first free throw. (I can’t be too hard on the guy, though, considering Rondo’s hack job left him bleeding from the mouth.) That was the game. Brad had to miss the next freebie on purpose in the vain hope that one of his teammates might be able to corral the board and put it back in. No such luck. (He didn’t even hit the rim.) And the Celtics escaped with the win.
I guess that, in some ways, this defeat had a karmic feel to it. After all, the Bulls probably should have lost Game 4 because of missed foul shots. They were much better today, though, going 27-for-30 before those final (and fatal) two bricks. It was an yet another epic game in a classic series that , sadly, ended in a soul-crushing loss for the Bullies. And now its back to the United Center for a do-or-die Game 6. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go throw up in my own mouth now.
Boston Celtics player notes: With Pierce struggling for most of the game and Ray Allen (10 points, 3-for-8) limited to 26 minutes before fouling out, Boston once again turned to Rondo (game-high 28 points, 8 rebounds, 11 assists). Hell, he was even 2-for-2 from downtown. (I thought that kid couldn’t shoot!) Rajon got some big help from “Big Baby” Davis (21 points, 7-for-11 from the field, 7-for-8 from the line) and Kendrick Perkins (game-high 19 rebounds, game-high 7 blocked shots, 16 points). The reserves only managed to chip in 5 points on 2-for-10 shooting, but Pierce came on late and finished with 26 points (11-for-22) and 7 rebounds.
Chicago Bulls player notes: Air Gordon shot like his shoulder (and not his hamstring) was busted up (6-for-21), but near-perfect foul shooting (11-for-12) enabled him to put up a team-high 26 points. Kirk Hinrichwas hot off the bench and came through with19 points (6-for-12), 4 boards, a steal and a block. Rose finished with 14 (7-for-16), 8 rebounds (4 offensive), 6 assists and 3 steals (not to mention those, ugh, 6 TOs). Noah had a MAN-type double-double (11 points, 17 boards), Tyrus came reasonably close (12 points, 8 rebounds), and Salmons scored 17 (5-for-15) to go along with 5 boards, 3 assists, a steal and a block.
More numbers: Chicago won the Battle of the Boards 50-44, which included a 14-9 edge on the offensive glass. Unfortunately, they didn’t do a very good job protecting the rim, which allowed Boston to hit 18 layups (twice as many as the Bulls). The teams were even on fast breaks (14 points each). The Bulls were +11 from the line (although they had the two biggest misses).
TrueHoop Network: Zach Lowe of Celtics Hub: “With the season on the line in overtime, the Celtics, thinner than they’vebeen all year long, simply threw out the playbook and let the two best players on the floor take them home with simple one-on-one plays. In the last two minutes of regulation and overtime, Boston shot 8-of-10 from the floor, and Paul Pierce and RajonRondo combined to hit seven of those field goals, including an epic five straight from the Captain. They manufactured points when Perkins was too tired to score, Ray Allen had fouled out, Marburywas afraid to shoot, Tony Allen was a non-factor and Glen Davis was forced out of the game by the Bulls small line-up. The last four Pierce baskets were jump shots, and the last three, including the game-winner with 3.6 seconds left, were simple pull-ups over John Salmons. I’m not sure where this ranks on the list of all-time clutch Pierce performances, but it’s up there.”