|05.02.09 at 10:12 pm ET|
After the Celtics rolled at the end of the first half, you knew the Bulls would come out with everything they had in the third. The Celtics were able to absorb the Bulls charge for the most part and take a 78-71 lead into the third quarter.
Things got a little heated as Rajon Rondo was fouled hard twice. First by Joakim Noah and then by Brad Miller who topped it off with a little shove. Neither play was ruled a Flagrant foul. For his part, Rondo picked up a technical foul after a timeout.
The Bulls are shooting just 41 percent but are staying in the game at the free throw line where they made all 10 of their free throws in the quarter and are 23-for-27 for the game.
Heading into the fourth quarter, Kendrick Perkins has four fouls. Rondo, Big Baby Davis and Brian Scalabrine have three fouls. For the Bulls, Miller has four fouls. John Salmons and Derrick Rose each have three.
The question we have before us is simple. Will this be the last 12 minutes of this series or will be go to overtime for the fifth time?
|05.02.09 at 9:30 pm ET|
So, who had the Celtics bench in the X-factor pool? In the first half the much-maligned reserve unit shot 6-for-9 from the floor and 4-for-5 from 3-point range to score 18 points and completely turn the game around with their defensive energy, particularly from Stephon Marbury and Eddie House.
House picked up three steals and Marbury dogged Derrick Rose into having a scoreless quarter. The Bulls bench, namely Brad Miller and Kirk Hinrich missed all five of their shots from the floor and have not been a factor.
Even Mikki Moore contributed with a timely charge, four points and two rebounds. The Bulls were 3-for-14 from the floor in the second quarter and that had a lot to do with the defensive effort from the second unit.
|05.02.09 at 9:20 pm ET|
For the first time in this series, last season’s playoff atmosphere is back.
Down 27-23 after the first quarter, the Celtics outscored the Bulls 29-11 heading into halftime. In the final eight minutes of the half the Bulls shot 0-6 from the floor while committing 7 turnovers.
Rather than live and die from long range, the Celtics took it inside and scored 16 points in the paint. Even more importantly, they stopped the Bulls from doing the game. The Bulls did not score a single lay up in the entire half (4 points in the paint).
But there is more to this game than inside scoring. The Celtics bench has finally come alive in Game 7. Brian Scalabrine, Eddie House, and Mikki Moore combined for 18 points. Moore (gasp) even drew an offensive foul.
|05.02.09 at 8:39 pm ET|
As Game 7 began to get under way the crowd was rocking and the Garden was electric. Not that it bothered the Bulls at all. Chicago came out strong building an 11-4 lead and taking a 27-23 lead after one quarter.
Ben Gordon and Derrick Rose combined for 20 points, while Joakim Noah grabbed seven rebounds. The Celtics, meanwhile, struggled at the outset and shot just 35 percent from the floor. Also of concern is the fact that Big Baby Davis and Brian Scalabrine each have two fouls.
But it wasn’t all bad news for the C’s, Paul Pierce got off to a decent start scoring seven points, while Kendrick Perkins continued his strong play inside with four points and five rebounds and did not commit a foul. Scalabrine also gave the Celtics a huge lift with five points. The pace is fast–the Celtics got up 26 shots–but they only had one turnover.
All things considered, the Celtics did well to get the margin down to four points, which is something Ray Allen talked about before the game. “(We need) to get good starts and finishes to each quarter,” he said. “That builds momentum.” Consider that task half completed.
|05.02.09 at 8:03 pm ET|
We all prepare for moments of stress in our own way. About two hours before Game 7 Kendrick Perkins was shooting free throws in a mostly empty Garden, while Derrick Rose was at the other end of the floor working on his mid-range game. Up in Section 111, the kid who dances to “Livin on a Prayer” was working on his steps. (Sorry to break it to anyone who thought that was spontaneous.)
Ray Allen wasn’t on the court because he had already gotten in his work as he always does. Allen’s legendary pregame shooting routine is a big reason why the veteran guard is generally calm and usually willing to talk to the press before games. While the media-to-player ratio on the locker room was at one time about 42-0 in favor of the press, Allen walked to his locker at approximately 6:55 p.m. and indicated he was ready to share some of his thoughts on the eve of yet another Game 7.
He talked about the disappointment when he was a Milwaukee Buck and the team found out that Scott Williams would be suspended while they were in the air flying to Philly for Game 7 of their Eastern Conference Finals series with the Sixers. He talked about a 70-year-old woman who came up to him in the grocery store and told him, “nice game.”
“I’ve been in series where the other team was favored and we played over our heads,” Allen said. “I’ve been in series where both teams were even. I’ve never been in a series like this where you look at so many games that could have gone either way.”
Allen was asked is he was tired. “No,” he said letting it sit there for a second. “This is what I train my body for, physically and mentally.” As for the hype of a Game 7, Allen said, “That’s for people on the outside looking in.”
As to whether this is the best series ever, Allen offered, “Regardless of who’s playing and what round it is, this has been great basketball.”
|05.02.09 at 7:15 pm ET|
There was a time when Kevin Garnett was Joakim Noah’s favorite NBA player.
Those days are long gone.
“I don’t care about him at all. I don’t care about him at all,” Noah said before Game 7. “He used to be my favorite player. Not my favorite player any more.”
There was a time when Noah admired Garnett’s passion. He has been witnessing it in the Celtics-Bulls first round match up, as an injured Garnett has been emotional on the sidelines.
“He’s talking the whole time,” Noah said. “You can tell that he’s really passionate about his team, especially when things are going well.”
But he stopped looking up to Garnett when he got to the NBA in 2007. It wasn’t just because they were wearing different uniforms, either. Even though Noah cannot deny Garnett’s talent, that’s where the compliment ends.
“He’s a great player,” he said. “Now that I hear stories, I see how he is, not a big fan. “
|05.02.09 at 4:25 pm ET|
The last 48 hours or so the most persistent thought about Saturday night’s Game 7 between the Celtics and Bulls is: This can’t get possibly get any better, right? How could these two teams top what we’ve seen so far. Five overtimes with Ben Gordon and Ray Allen playing a game of UConn H-O-R-S-E right to the end–last Huskie with the ball wins? Just about the only thing we seem to know about this series is that we don’t know how it will end.
But we’ve had six games and seven overtimes to figure out just about everything else. There will be no secrets tonight. Both teams have thrown everything they have at each other and barring a Tim Thomas sighting (the Bull, not the Bruin) we now have a fairly clear blueprint of what each team wants to do.
Here are six things to watch (we snuck in an extra one because it’s that big of a game).
Derrick Rose has had three great games in this series–Game 1, 4 and 6. Not coincidentally, those were the games the Bulls won. Rajon Rondo has had five great games and one somewhere between brilliant and disastrous. Rondo scored but eight points in Game 6, shot 4-for-17 from the field, missed two huge free throws down the stretch in regulation and had his game-winning shot attempt blocked by Rose. That Rondo took the shot, and not Ray Allen who was video-game hot, is another mark against him. And yet, Rondo still had nine rebounds, 19 assists and no turnovers. Not one.
The Bulls kept Rondo out of the lane in Game 6 by packing in in and also by making a ton of shots and not allowing the Celtics to get out and run. The other issue with Rondo is his temper. After he swatted Brad Miller’s face at the end of Game 5, the Bulls have been looking for some payback and Kirk Hinrich almost succeeded in getting Rondo out of Game 6. Rondo has been saved by the NBA twice now, who ruled his Game 5 foul was not flagrant and that his Game 6 altercation with Hinrich didn’t require any additional penalty upgrade.
Rondo and Rose have both been spectacular, but Rondo has had the clear edge overall in this series. He can solidify his spot as the best point guard in the East if he bests Rose tonight, while Rose can stake an early claim to the title if he can lead the Bulls to the upset. Either way, this matchup is now a marquee event for the next decade. Like Chris Paul and Deron Williams. But better.
2. Who’s Got the Hot Hand?
If you care, there’s a lot of evidence out there that the so-called hot hand simply doesn’t exist. That’s probably true, but given the shooting exhibitions that Ray Allen, Ben Gordon and John Salmons (at least in Game 6) have put on, and the ridiculous number of last-second 3-pointers both teams have launched, and made, it seems likely that at least one of those three players will have a huge say in deciding things.
The smart money would be on Allen in that he has the most experience of the three and the fact that he has had the best series. In six games, Allen is averaging 23.5 points on 25-of-53 shooting (47 percent) from 3-point range. Gordon, meanwhile, is averaging 22.8, but shooting 38 percent from 3-point range. One wonders if Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro elects to switch Hinrich, who is far and away his best perimeter defender, on to Allen if he gets off to a good start.
If it’s close at the end, count on the former UConners to get more chances at winding up in an Amazing montage.
3. Your Other Most Important Players? We Give You Kendrick Perkins and Brad Miller
Miller wasn’t the only reason the Bulls were able to win Game 6, but he was the biggest. He only missed one shot all all night, made two huge plays at the end of regulation and sank crucial free throws in the overtime. Miller was an incredible +26 in the +/- ratings in Game 6, a number that looks slightly better than it really was because he often gets taken out for defensive purposes, but not that much.
Perkins, meanwhile, has become a defensive monster in this series. Bill Simmons wrote that Perk was playing like Robert Parish and much as I’d like to come up with a different analogy I think the Sports Guy nailed that one. What’s been so amazing about Perkins’ play is that he has kept his composure and not committed silly fouls. As well as Big Baby Davis has played offensively, Perkins is really the only Celtic capable of holding down the middle against the Bulls. He has to stay out of foul trouble in Game 7 (this is a recording).
4. Whither Big Baby?
Speaking of Davis, he is Option B in the middle of the great small-small lineup debate. The Bulls have made great use out of playing Rose, Gordon and Hinrich together with Hinrich playing strong defense on his fellow Jayhawk, Paul Pierce.
But when Del Negro replaces Tyrus Thomas with Salmons and goes really small, Doc Rivers has countered with Tony Allen, and that backfired in Game 6 when TA had to take two shots and bricked them both.
If Del Negro goes back to that lineup, and he should, it will be interesting to see if Doc sticks with Baby and accepts the defensive matchup trade-off for more size and rebounding, not to mention a huge size edge on offense. Baby has averaged 18.7 points and 7.5 rebounds, but half of his boards are coming at the offensive end.
Option C would be Stephon Marbury, incidentally, but Marbury has not played like he’s ready for the big stage at all in these playoffs and Rivers has seemingly lost faith in him.
5. The Truth About the Captain
The truth is no one knows if Paul Pierce is hurt or tired, or a combination of both, but he has not had the lift on his shots and appeared a step slow at times. If there was one play that symbolized Pierce in the playoffs it was losing a race to Joakim Noah in the third overtime and not being able to get enough of Noah to prevent getting dunked on and picking up his sixth foul. It was an instinctive play by Pierce and one can argue it was the right one if he didn’t have five fouls.
Throughout his career Pierce has shown a fierce determination to play through just about everything. He had a huge Game 3 (not coincidentally, the only blowout of the series) and an even bigger closing stretch at the end of regulation and overtime in Game 5. But beyond that, Pierce has appeared downright ordinary.
More than anyone on the Celtics, Pierce understands the history and the mythology of the franchise. The captain knows deep down that if he can carry his team across the finish line one more time it will only add to his legend. The question is: Does he have it in him?
6. The Crowd
You play 82 games in the regular season to get homecourt in a game like this. The Garden crowd saved the Celtics twice last season in seventh games and it will need to be at its best if its going to have an impact. The emotions have been brewing all series and threatened to get out of control at times. The Celtics need to feed off the energy, but not let it overtake them. The Bulls need to block it out. If there is one true advantage in this game, homecourt is probably it.
The eyes of the sports world are on this game tonight. It can’t possibly live up to its billing, can it? We’ll have updates during the game on Green Street and analysis after it’s over, assuming it ever does get over.
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