No, seriously…are you kidding me?! I don’t even know where to begin. Really. I have no freaking idea.
Remember that scene in The Princess Bride when Inigo Montoya said: “Let me ‘splain. [pause] No, there is too much. Let me sum up. Buttercup is marry’ Humperdinck in a little less than half an hour. So all we have to do is get in, break up the wedding, steal the princess, and make our escape…after I kill Count Rugen.”? Yeah. There was no time for Inigo to tell the whole story and almost no way for his audience to make sense of the condensed version. Although, in Westley’s defense, he had been mostly dead all day.
And I’ve gotta tell you, after Chicago’s super-epic 128-127 triple overtime victory over the Boston Celtics, I feel mostly dead. The game lasted nearly four hours. By the end, poor Doug Collins (who was calling the game for TNT) sounded like he had lost control of several vital motor functions, and maybe a few cognitive ones as well. I can totally relate. I feel like poor Mark Wahlberg at the end of The Perfect Storm, treading water in the middle of the ocean during a hurricane and thinking, “How the [bleep] did I end up here…?”
At some point, I just stopped trying to keep track of every remarkable twist and turn in this almost-neverending story. It was impossible. It would have been easier to roller skate to the moon or invent a car that runs on Smurfs. But, here are all the highlights I have the strength of will to remember:
Rajon Rondo’s belated flagrant: By now you probably have the story of Rondo’s “non-flagrant” foul on Brad Miller memorized. Well, call it fate, call it luck, call it karma, but with 28 seconds left in the first quarter, Rajon finally got his flagrant. He earned it for grabbing Kirk Hinrich by the arm and swinging him into the scorer’s table. It was an obvious and rather thuggish maneuver, and the first thing I thought was, “You know, if I had been the perpetrator of the most controversial mugging in this year’s playoffs, that last thing I’d want to do is draw attention to myself by almost getting into a fight with the one player on the opposing team that my teammates had talked to the press about stopping.”
It seemed like an idiot move at the time, but now I’m not so sure. I mean, Rondo had to figure there was going to be some kind of payback for that play, either in the form of a really hard foul from one of the Bulls (like, say, Miller himself) or by means of a make-up call. And by going crazy early, Rajon was able to get that out of the way — and out of everybody’s mind — very early on, leaving him to concentrate on the game. And it’s hard to argue with the results; even though he finished with only 8 points on miserable shooting (4-for-17), he finished with 9 rebounds and 19 assists…which tied Bob Cousy’s Celtics playoff record. Yes, that’s right: The Cooz.
Ray Allen: Okay…wow? That dude couldn’t have been any more on fire if Doc Rivers had soaked him in napalm, hosed him down with a flamethrower and launched him into the sun. Allen carried the Celtics in the first half with 29 points on 10-for-15 shooting and ended up with a playoff career-high 51 points. That’s more than even the great Larry Bird ever scored in the postseason, and it tied for the second-highest total in Celtics playoff history behind the franchise-record 54 points John Havlicek scored in 1973.
In 59 minutes, Ray-Ray shot 18-for-32 and hit an NBA playoff record-tying 9 three-pointers (in 18 attempts). No matter how you slice and dice it, it was one of the greatest — if not the greatest — shooting displays in the Association’s postseason history.
And make no mistake, it wasn’t just about making the shots, it was also about the circumstances in which he hit them. With 20 seconds left in the second overtime, he knocked down a long two-pointer (his tippy-toes were on the arc) over the outstretched hand of Joakim Noah (who seems destined to get dotted over and over in this series) to pull Boston to within two, and then he drilled a triple with seven seconds left to send the game into a third overtime. All I can say is the authorities need to check Allen’s crawl space for dead bodies, because that man is a straight-up cold-blooded killer.
The Fourth Quarter of Doom: Doc Rivers was forced to go to his bench in the fourth, and the Bulls promptly charged out to a 12-point lead (88-76) on a Tyrus Thomas slamma jamma with 10:15 to go in the quarter. It honestly felt like Chicago was about to pull away for good…but the Celtics went on a 23-3 run (which included an 18-0 spurt) to go ahead 99-91 with 3:38. Now it felt like the Bulls were finished, even after Rose converted a layup to cut Boston’s lead to six with 2:47 to go. But then John Salmons drove in and put in a little six-footer, drew the foul and kicked in a free throw to pull Chicago to within three (99-96). I’m telling you, that play renewed the team’s hope. It really did. But they still would have been sunk without…
The redemption of Brad Miller: The Other Guy in The Controversial Play of the 2009 NBA Playoffs. Miller shanked two key free throws at the end of Game 5. It was understandable, considering he was woozy from pain and the chemical fumes from whatever the Bulls trainers had used to stop his mouth from bleeding. But whatever the circumstances, those misses (the second of which was intentional and desperate) cost Chicago the game. (Or, at least, it was part of why the Bulls lost.) But Miller came back like a living spirit of vengeance in this game. He would finish with 23 points on 8-for-9 shooting (and that one miss was a forced hook shot to beat the shot clock buzzer), 10 rebounds and 2 blocked shots off the Chicago bench. Oh, he also had BY FAR the best plus-minus score of the game (+26).
But you know what? Those are just numbers. As with Allen’s 51 points, the stats only tell part of the story. Brad was 2-for-2 from downtown, including a ginormous three-spot off a designed play with 1:06 left in regulation. That big-balls bucket got Chicago to within two (101-99). Then, with 29 seconds left, Miller shambled to the hoop — all the way from the top of the key! — and tied with game with a layup. Neither team would score again, and it was on to the first overtime.
But wait, there’s more. Glen Davis was forced to foul Brad with 16 seconds left in the second OT, and Miller walked to the line and calmly sunk both foul shots to give the Bulls a three-point lead (118-115). I immediately texted “Brad Miller’s redemption!” to Henry Abbott. Henry replied: “Just wrote that same line.” That could have been the game, but freaking Ray Allen hit another impossible three…and it was onto the third overtime.
Oddly enough, Brad was fouled by Big Baby again with 28 ticks left in the third overtime, and Miller again connected on both freebies to give the Bulls another three-point lead (128-125). But the game STILL wasn’t over.
Derrick Rose: This kid, this rookie, had one of the quietest big games I have ever seen. At times, Derrick seemed almost invisible, which is bizarre considering he ended up with 28 points (12-for-25), 8 rebounds and 7 assists. But his biggest contribution of the game — and I almost can’t believe I’m saying this — was on the defensive end. Rose finally figured out how to stay in front of Rajon Rondo, who struggled to score all night and went (as I mentioned above) 4-for-17 from the field. And Derrick saved his best defensive play for last. With his team down by one (128-127) and time running out (seven seconds left), Rondo forced up a 12-footer that Derrick roseup (get it?) and blocked! Not only that, but Derrick also managed to snare the rebound and was fouled by Brian Scalabrine. The effort must have taken something out of him, because Rose bonked both free throws, but with only three seconds left and no timeouts remaining, the best Boston could do was a 42-foot desperation heave from Rondo that never had a hope. Game over. Bulls win! Bulls win!!
Kirk Hinrich: Okay, seriously, Kirk chipped in 11 points and 7 assists in reserve, and he played some wicked defense on whomever Vinny Del Negro asked him to cover. BUT…he blew an easy layup with 21 seconds left in the third overtime. Had he hit it, the Bulls would have gone up by three points. Had he simply held onto the ball (as he should have), the Celtics would have been forced to foul him. It was a terrible decision, and it gave Boston a chance to take the last shot and win outright with a simple two-point shot. Sure, Rondo, who scampered up to defend the play, sure as heck seemed to commit a goaltend — he might have touched the ball and he definitely hit the backboard while the ball was in the cylinder — but Kirk should NOT have taken that shot. Rose saved the day when he stuffed Rondo…and Kirk should carry Derrick’s bags pretty much forever for that. Because had the Celtics won, Captain Kirk might have gotten beamed right out of the Windy City.
Joakim Noah: Okay, I have to admit this right now: I have a man-crush on Joakim. Opposing teams and their fans may hate him, but I love the guy. His energy, his hustle, his everything. He battled on the boards and finished with a game-high 15 rebounds (including 6 that were swiped off of the offensive glass). But his grandest play of the night came with 38 seconds left in the third overtime when he swiped the ball from Paul Pierce, sprinted all the way down court — the big man has handles! — and threw down a viscious dunk whild also drawing a foul on Pierce. And that was Paul’s sixth. Jo knocked down the ‘throw to transform a tie game into a three-point Bulls lead. “Huge” doesn’t begin to cover it.
John Salmons: I kind of hate to put this guy last, particularly since he finally broke out of his offensive slump to score a team-high 35 points (13-for-22, 5-for-9 from beyond the arc) in a game-high 60 minutes. And all the while he played solid defense. Except for one forced three-pointer near the end of regulation, he played great basketball all night. He repeatedly made big plays, if not the biggest, and he was the foundation of Chicago’s early-game offense. And could Paul Pierce handle John off the dribble? Not even close.
A place in history: Think about it. And I mean think about it really hard. I can say with something like 100 percent certainty that you can’t remember a closer, more competitive playoff series. In fact, by all objective measures, there hasn’t been one. It now has featured a mind-scrambling SEVEN overtime sessions. And yes, that’s easily a NBA playoff record. (Celtics-Hawks and Celtics-Nationals are second with four each…and they took place in 1957 and 1953, respectively.) In fact, it’s more than any team in NBA history has ever played in an entire postseason. I’m going to have to track down the official numbers later, but there have been more than 100 lead changes and over 60 ties through six games, and I’m pretty sure that has to be a record too. Again, I’ll try to research the final word on those stats. But man oh man oh man, this matchup has been nothing short of legen — WAIT FOR IT — dary! Let’s just say that if NASA suddenly revealed that it’s sending a space shuttle to Mars using a new kind of super-fuel made up entirely of the awesomeness produced by this series, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised. And Game 7 is on the way.
Glen Davis: Big Baby finished with 23 points (10-for-18) and 7 boards. He hit some BIG shots and set some even BIGGER picks, including one moving screen that set up one of Allen’s overtime three-bombs. He also created some serious matchup problems when the Bulls went small. He has played some damn fine basketball in this series, especially when you consider he was a second-round draft pick.
Vinny Del Negro: You’ll notice he trapped and double-teamed Paul Pierce in key possessions this time. I’m telling you, Vinny is finally learning from his mistakes. Or so it seems. (I will now whistle and pretend that none of his other defensive screwups ever happened…)
Ben Gordon: BG had one of his “Ground Gordon” games: 12 points on 4-for-14 shooting. And about 13 of those shots were of the “ugly and forced” variety. Plus he fouled out in only 31 minutes…and, to compound matters, he got so pissy after his fifth foul that he got tagged with a well-earned technical for kicking a cooler. And he almost continued on his rampage after the tech. Hey, Ben, remember. Contract year.
Doug Collins: Okay, I just had to add this. Remember how about twenty paragraphs ago I said he was losing his mind by the end of the game? Well, at one point in the third overtime, Kirk Hinrich stole the ball from Paul Pierce and Doug said, “Kirk used the ‘Hinrich Maneuver!” That’s when I knew for sure he had collapsed into complete and utter slap-happiness.
Update! TrueHoop Network: Zach Lowe of Celtics Hub: “I am beginning to feel about this series like a drug addict must feel when he’s ready to enter serious rehab. It started out as innocent fun, we experienced some unthinkable highs, but now I’m coming down and I’m ready for it to be over. My friends and loved ones would like to see me at some point. For god’s sake, the Houston-Portland game was in the third quarter by the time this game ended. I have to start blocking out four hours just to watch these games.”
Update! More TrueHoop Network: Henry Abbot of TrueHoop: “When people play like Joakim Noah — with constant energy, but not all that much polish — the idea is that the constant effort pays off. Boy did it ever. He works a thousand straight plays trying to create havoc however he can, and comes up with not just a huge steal, but then outraces Paul Pierce to the hoop (the Celtics need an athleticism injection) for a key basket and the ensuing foul, after fouling Paul Pierce out of the game. The free throw was no small feat, either — that point ended up changing the whole close of the game, and Noah’s sometimes a wobbly foul shooter.”