By Kevin Henkin
The NBA: Where Immense Frustration Happens. Ugh. Where to begin? With some salient facts, I suppose, which are as follows:
The Chicago Bulls defeated the Boston Celtics at home in Game 1 of their first round playoff series, in overtime, by a score of 105-103.
Bulls rookie point guard Derrick Rose submitted a performance for the ages. In 49 minutes of play, he recorded 36 points on 12-19 shooting to go with 11 assists. He also hit all 12 of his free throws.
Rajon Rondo was almost as magnificent with 29 points, 9 rebounds and 7 assists.
Ray Allen, meanwhile, was horrid. Yes, he missed the shot on a good look at the end of overtime that would have tied it for Boston but it was his overall line of 4 points on 1-12 shooting (including 0-6 from deep waters) that spoke volumes. With Kevin Garnett out, the Celtics simply cannot afford to have Ray Allen become invisible for another playoff series.
Joakim Noah hauled in 17 rebounds to go with his 11 points and 3 blocks. Noah in particular seemed to swallow up Glen Davis whenever Baby approached anywhere near the basket. Brad Miller grabbed another 12 boards off the bench. For the game, Chicago out-rebounded Boston by a margin of 66-57. The effort by the Bulls on the glass was certainly among the primary deciding factors.
Paul Pierce had a lackluster first half, scoring only 4 points before coming alive in the third quarter and beyond. For the game, he finished with 23 points on 8-21 shooting. What he’ll be remembered for most, however, was missing the second of two free throws with 2 seconds left in regulation. Hitting the shot would have sent the Bulls packing. Instead, the miss left the game tied at 97 all. In the subsequent overtime, Tyrus Thomas seemed to become Ray Allen by connecting on multiple contested outside jumpers whereas Ray Allen seemed to become Tony Allen, suffering form a sustained poor shooting touch as well as a nasty case of butterfingers at the most crucial of times.
Now for some musings beyond the numbers:
I think anyone watching the game had to feel very early on that the Celtics were not submitting a playoff level of intensity. Doc Rivers admitted as much during his in-game comments to ESPN. I remain mystified by this. As a team without its emotional leader and defensive anchor, the Celtics obviously realize that their margin for error, even against a lesser team like the Bulls, has shrunk considerably. Therefore, one would think that no one in a Celtics uniform would ever be seen – on the parquet floor, no less – TAKING PLAYS OFF. And yet that’s exactly what happened on numerous occasions over the course of the game.
Take, for example, the last play of the first half. With time winding down, Ben Gordon launched a three point shot from the top of the key. When the shot left his hands, only Brad Miller moved towards the basket. When the shot bounced wide to the left with one second left, it fell into the hands of the advancing Miller, who laid it in easily just before time expired. Replays showed that no Celtics players were even in the lane when Miller received the ball, with most of them still stuck to the floor exactly where they were when Gordon launched the shot. It was an inexcusable collective lack of effort that ended up costing the Celtics dearly later in the game.
There were other examples, such as a Rajon Rondo drive just inside the three minute mark of the third quarter. On that play, Rondo took a deep rebound and charged full steam up the court against a back-peddling Bulls defense. Again, replays showed that the only other Celtics player even within twenty feet behind him was Ray Allen as the lagging trailer. Meanwhile, the other Boston players – Pierce, Davis and Kendrick Perkins – all jogged up the court behind the play. Left alone, Rondo stubbornly charged hard into the heart of the Chicago defense with the hopes of drawing a foul. He turned the ball over instead.
These are the plays that I cannot erase from my mind, and believe me, there were others worthy of scrutiny. Look, we all know that losing playoff games at home is going to happen. It just shouldn’t ever come down to a lack of proper effort. Yes, it’s true that Derrick Rose played out of his mind. It’s also true that the officials were regrettably a factor. Hell, an entire article could be devoted to exploring their gross incompetence displayed over the course of this game. Leading the charge was Bennett Salvatore, the man you may well remember for calling the ludicrous offensive foul against Paul Pierce in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals against Detroit last year.
Regardless, if we’re going to assign blame, accusing fingers should be pointed first and foremost at everyone in a Celtics uniform not named Rajon Rondo. Outside of the young point guard, who nearly dragged his team to victory all by himself, all other Celtics players were guilty of either inexcusably dogging it on occasion or submitting a sub-par overall performance. Ray Allen, as noted above, was beyond ineffective. So too were Eddie House, Glen Davis, Stephon Marbury and – to a lesser degree – Paul Pierce.
In the wake of the news that Garnett was likely a scratch for the playoffs, the Celtics players to a man said all the right things. Don’t count us out. We’re still playing for a title. Sounds great in front of the microphones but now it has to be backed up on the basketball court. That includes the entire forty-eight minutes of the game, by the way. Forget all the doomsday prognostications about Cleveland or even Orlando. Chicago is the team that presently stands in the way of a successful title defense. Get past them and maybe we can resume discussing of likelihood of an upset against the vaunted Cleveland Cavaliers.
To be continued…