The Bulls beat the NBA champs! Okay, so the Celtics (or should I say “Celtics”) were missing Kevin Garnett, Glen “Big Baby” Davis, Tony Allen and Brian Scalabrine and then lost Leon Powe after he bruised his right knee in a collision with Ben Gordon a few minutes into the game. But still, Chicago executed down the stretch (for a change) and earned a 127-121 victory…not to mention sole possession of the East’s eighth and final playoff spot (for today, at least). I feel like a proud papa after watching his son score his first goal in a pee-wee soccer game. Milkshakes on me, guys!
There were other reasons to rejoice, too. John Salmons looked positively All-Staresque in scoring 38 points (matching his career-high) on 14-for-20 shooting (against the team currently ranked second in defensive efficiency). The Bulls put 127 points on the board (the most scored by a Celtics opponent), shot 53 percent as a team and committed only 10 turnovers (which resulted in a mere 7 points for the Celtics) while forcing 13 turnovers for 20 big points going the other way. They outscored Boston 17-6 in fast break points and were aggressive enough to earn 41 free throw attempts (14 more than the Celtics). Oh, and Tyrus Thomas played his first good game in what feels like forever, finishing with what I call The Dantley: 18 points off 10 fouls shots and 4 field goals.
As always, there were reasons for concern as well. The defense was, you know, a little lacking. I mean, the Celtics did score 121 points, shooting just a shade under 50 percent while hitting 11 of their 20 three-point attempts (55 percent). And, despite the dearth of healthy bodies, Boston built a 13-point third-quarter lead. The Bulls then had to erupt for 38 points in the fourth (on 70 percent shooting) to pull out what was essentially a must-win. To be honest, it’s hard to believe that would have happened if Doc Rivers would have had a full roster at his disposal.
But hey, why nitpick? You have to play the teams that are on the schedule, be they good or bad, healthy or hurting. And I’ve seen the Bulls collapse enough times this season to really, really appreciate the way Brad Miller (who scored 13 of his 21 points in the final period), Derrick Rose (9 fourth-quarter points) and Salmons (another 9 in the fourth) came through in the clutch. There were so many big plays in the last few minutes. Miller grabbed an offensive rebound, got fouled and hit both free throws. Salmons threw down a reverse jam. Rose drove in for a bucket and then assisted on a layup by Miller and Salmons, with John earning an “And 1!” in the process. Salmons hit another big layup to push the lead to five (124-119) with 29 seconds left…and that pretty much iced the game.
Seriously, people, I cannot tell you how good it feels to see the Bulls getting layups down the stretch instead of off-balance 28-footers from Ben Gordon. It looked like real execution by a real basketball team. Who knew?
Now, I’ll admit that the Celtics were depleted, and depleted teams are prone to defensive lapses, particularly in late-game situations. But like I said, you have to play the games, and that’s what the Bulls did. And they came out with a huge (and hugely important) victory. I’ll take it.
TrueHoop Network: Zach Lowe of CelticsHub: “Here’s something that tells you all you need to know about this game, a loss in which the C’s gave up a season-high 127 points to a mediocre team: When the Celtics absolutely had to get one rebound–when they were down 122-119 with 33 seconds left and Derrick Rose missed a jumper–Eddie House was left to box out Brad Miller. Eddie House is 6?1”. Brad Miller is 7?0”. Miller obviously got the rebound on the left wing, beat Eddie (who had jumped for the board) on a loping, preposterous drive into the paint and dished to John Salmons for the game-icing lay-in (and the foul). It is here that I could ask why Doc Rivers had taken Kendrick Perkins out of the game for this possession, leaving a super-small line-up of House-Pierce-Allen-Marbury-Rondo to get the essential stop. … But, really, the line-up that was on the court at the end of the game (and for most of the fourth quarter) shows how meaningless this game is in the long run. It was fun to watch precisely because it was so gimmicky. If the Celtics go on to win the title this year, this game will merit one paragraph in the Globe and/or Herald quickie book chronicling the season–and only then to note Leon Powe’s knee injury (update forthcoming). It is a game we will have long forgotten come the playoffs.”