Holy crap! You wanted playoff drama, you got playoff drama. This game had everything: Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles…
Okay, okay. That was actually The Princess Bride. But this game sure had its share of fairytale-like elements. A proud but ailing champion. A fierce and determined underdog. Mortal combat. A duel for the ages. And, of course, a thrilling last-second victory. Unfortunately, the Bulls were not the recipient of tonight’s happy ending…the Celtics won 118-115 to even this best-of-seven series at one game apiece.
But what a wild ride it was. I literally cannot summarize this game. It was way too epic, far too full of twists and turns, a million little momentum shifts and heroic deeds. (I’m pretty sure the live broadcast saved a burning orphanage and walked several little old ladies across the street…maybe even rescued a kitten from a tree.) But I’ll try to break down some of the key components of what went down:
Derrick Rose: Rose, the unquestioned superhero of Game 1, got tagged with two early fouls and never totally got back into the flow of the game. (Credit the Celtics’ defensive game plan, which clearly had a “Rose Rules” element added in, as explained at Celtics Hub.) He finished with 10 points (5-for-11), 6 rebounds and a team-high 7 assists — good numbers, but certainly not great — and he was thoroughly outplayed by his Boston counterpart.
Rajon Rondo: Real scary moment for the Celtics when Rondo suffered a minor right ankle sprain in the second quarter. He missed the final five minutes of the first half but returned in the third quarter and finished with a triple-double (19 points, 12 rebounds, 16 assists). He also had a game-high 5 steals. Rondo was aggressive and forced the action all night. Plus, he hit a clutch 20-footer with a minute left to put Boston up 112-111, then he snagged a critical offensive rebound with 30 seconds to go and hit Ray Allen for a threeball that put Boston up 115-113. He also assisted on Allen’s last-second game winner (more on that below). If it wasn’t for Derrick’s nuclear-powered Game 1, Rajon would be the MVP of the series so far.
The Battle of the Boards: The Celtics won this one, big time, 50-36, including a 21-8 edge on the offensive glass. That rebounding dominance allowed Boston to score 32 second-chance points (to Chicago’s 12). That is the single-biggest reason the Bulls lost this game. If you repeatedly give a great team extra shots at the basket, they’re going to start hitting them. As coach Vinny said: “I loved the grit and toughness of our team, but you can’t expect to win when you get outrebounded like that.” Update! Nate pointed out in the comments that the Bulls’ “little men” were partly responsible for the rebounding deficiency. And, indeed, Ben Gordon and John Salmons combined for 2 defensive boards, while Rondo had 7 offenisve rebounds.
Glen Davis and Kendrick Perkins: Boston’s big men put the hurt on us, no doubt about it. Big Baby is sort of a “Kevin Garnett lite” — or, actually, based on his hefty girth, maybe he’s more of a “Kevin Garnett heavy” — but he did virtually everything KG would have done. (Well, except for on the defensive end.) Davis shot 12-for-21, snared 9 rebounds (4 offensive) and finished with 26 points (second-best on his team, behind Ray Allen). Moreover, Baby worked the Bulls over with his constant hustle and intensity, which may be why he finished with best plus-minus score of the game (+20). Perkins, meanwhile, muscled his way to 16 points (7-for-9), 12 boards (7 offensive) and 2 blocks.
Block party: Chicago’s interior defense was wicked-aggressive, as the team finished with 14 blocked shots (to Boston’s 4). Tyrus Thomas had 6 of those blocks, and Joakim Noah had 4 of them. Here’s the “but” though: The Celtics retained possession after several of those stuffs, and they managed to score several times after getting the ball back. Ty and Jo really need to work on controlling the rebound off their blocks or tapping it to a teammate.
Brad Miller: Whatever was wrong with him in Game 1 — during which he shot 2-for-11 — had been fixed by the time he checked into Game 2. Brad shot 4-for-8 from the field (including 1-for-1 from downtown) and 7-for-8 from the line for his 16 points, plus he grabbed a team-high 8 defensive rebounds (3 more than Joakim and double what Tyrus had). And in case you’re wondering why Miller played 36 minutes to Ty’s 20, it might be worth checking out the plus-minus column in the box score. The Bulls were outscored by 21 points when Tyrus was in the game, but they were +19 when Miller was on the floor. Only two other Chicago players had positive plus-minus marks: Lindsey Hunter was +2 and Rose was +1. If advanced stats mean anything at all, then they’re a sign that, for one night at least, the Bulls were a much better team with Brad on the floor.
One BIG knock on Miller, though: Those 4 turnovers. Ouch.
The transition game: Despite the fact that Boston came out running early, the Bulls still finished with a 21-10 advantage in fast break points.
Ray Allen versus Ben Gordon: In 1988, it was Larry versus Dominique. In 2008, it was The Truth versus King James. This season, it was Jesus Shuttlesworth versus Air Gordon. And no, I’m not overstating things: This playoff shootout was right up there with the best of them. In fact, if it had been, say, Kobe Bryant and LeBron going at each other the way Ray and BG did, your children’s children’s children would be hearing about it.
Gordon scored a playoff career-high 42 points (14-for-24, 6-for-11 from downtown), including Chicago’s final 12. He was so hot that the Boston defenders probably ended up with second and third degree burns from just standing near him. Seriously, Gordon was hitting every possible shot from every conceivable angle. Even video games aren’t that ridiculous. Said Little Ben: “I was in a zone. I really don’t remember what happened. I was in a zone. Every time I got the basketball, I tried to get a good shot and a good look at the basket.” (Gordon also finished with zero assists and zero turnovers. So, you know, he was definitely thinking “shoot first.” But hey, I’m not complaining…)
Unfortunately, Ray Allen had the same kind of second-half sizzle, scoring 28 of his 30 points in the final 24 minutes, including the game-winning three — over Noah’s desperately outstretched hand — with two seconds left. Allen finished 9-for-18 and matched Gordon’s six triples. Plus, Ray-Ray said that he and Ben were exchanging more than just clutch jumpers: “We were exchanging jabs there, and I don’t mean shots. I mean he caught me with an elbow, I got him right back with an elbow. It was…competitive.”
Clock (mis)management: Just like in Game 1, the Bulls were out of timeouts in the final seconds, so when Allen nailed the go-ahead three-pointer, the best Chicago could do was a running 46-footer from Tyrus Thomas as time expired. Memo to Vinny: Could you please, please, pretty-please save a timeout next time? The way things are going in this series, it looks like you’re going to need one or two down the stretch.
No fear: Okay, quick question: Where in the world did the Bulls’ poise come from? They nearly came away from a two-game stint in very hostile territory against the defending champions with a 2-0 series lead. They never looked nervous, scared or overwhelmed…how is that possible?
Looking ahead: So, after two tight games in Boston, the Bulls have to be feeling pretty good about Games 3 and 4 at the United Center, where they’ve been killing people for the last couple months. Said Tyrus: “To do what we did (Monday night) and know we’re headed back to the United Center is a good feeling for us.” No doubt.
But…it’ll be interesting to see how the team responds to playing at home. They were able to play pretty free and loose in Beantown. After all, they weren’t supposed to win there, right? That sometimes eases the pressure. However, a team absolutely must win its home games in the playoffs, and that can make players a little tight and tentative.