NBA writers Chris Mannix, Steve Aschburner and Scott Howard-Cooper assess Chicago's 128-127 triple-overtime victory against Boston in Game 6 on Thursday (RECAP | BOX) and look ahead to Game 7 of this riveting first-round series. For analysis from Ian Thomsen, click here.

• CHRIS MANNIX: There are so many staggering numbers from Game 6 that I don't even know where to start. How about 51 points for Boston's Ray Allen, who looked like an NBA Jam character the way he was launching three-pointers (nine of which connected) from all angles. How about 60 minutes for Chicago's John Salmons, whose groin is hurting him so much that he has trouble walking from his car to the locker room before games. How about 19 assists for Rajon Rondo, who made up for an atrocious shooting night (4-of-17) by consistently finding open teammates such as Allen, Glen Davis (23 points) and Paul Pierce (22).

There are the negative numbers, too. How about one, as in the point the normally unflappable Ben Gordon cost the Bulls when he was called for a technical foul late in the fourth quarter. Or two, as in the number of point-blank shots Boston's Tony Allen bricked in the final period. His back-to-back misses allowed the Bulls to rally from five points down with 1:15 left to force overtime. If Allen's confidence wasn't at a low point before this game (he had attempted only one shot before Game 6), it certainly is now.

Boston's character has been tested repeatedly over the last few weeks. But never like this. The Celtics will have to dig deep in Game 7 to find the energy to match Chicago's young and confident core. The Celtics' advantage is that the Garden will be ready to pop by Saturday's 8 p.m. tip-off. In the last two years, the Celtics have fed off the energy of their home crowd as much as any team in the league. That spark should neutralize the momentum Chicago picked up in Game 6. After that, it's anyone's guess. Because the only safe bet in Game 7 is that it will not end after the fourth quarter.


STEVE ASCHBURNER: When you grow up in Chicago, as I did, you watch your favorite teams with one eye on the games, one eye scanning for the daggers pointed at your heart, waiting to plunge as soon as you've been suckered into rooting and believing. Then you "go pro,'' make a living covering this stuff and largely detach from such fandom. Only I'm feeling it again, and it has little to do with the Chicago connection and lots to do with what we've seen so far and how Game 7 finishes off this series.

Now, instead of some gut fear that the Bulls, Cubs, Bears or White Sox won't be ready for their close-ups, I'm nervous that Game 7 -- for whatever reason -- won't do justice to what has come before it. Seven overtime periods in six games. Derrick Rose in his playoff debut matching a 39-year-old NBA rookie scoring record. Ray Allen again and again winding up with the ball in his hands right where and when Boston needs it (never mind actually hitting all those threes). Rajon Rondo looking for long stretches like the best player in the postseason, any series. Joakim Noah looking for one surreal moment in Game 6 like Rajon Rondo, swiping the ball and beating Paul Pierce downcourt on a breakaway. We've had glaring mistakes on the floor and from the bench, clammy-palmed heroics, bloodied mouths, some nasty fouls. If this were the Finals, it already would be bronzed. Never mind that stuff about 40 games in 40 nights -- these six, over 13, have been plenty. (Actually, more like 6.729 games, allowing for 35 bonus minutes.)

That's why Game 7 packs so much dread. I fear an anticlimax that spoils the drama, the specialness of what we've seen so far. I don't need overtime Saturday, I don't need a buzzer-beater, but I do need -- we all need -- a close, intense, well-played and ideally seesawing sort of game. That means Allen in a groove, Ben Gordon keeping pace in a duel of UConn alums. That means Pierce playing every angle with the ball and his body as if he's in pool hall, guys like John Salmons and Tyrus Thomas forgetting it's the defending champs they're challenging. That means Rose and Rondo again playing 10 years wiser and 20 mph faster. And maybe, just maybe, that means Kevin Garnett limping out of the tunnel, a Willis Reed moment for a Game 7 that deserves it.


SCOTT HOWARD-COOPER: Sometime around the 26th overtime Saturday night/Sunday morning in Boston, we will finally, and unfortunately, have a Celtics-Bulls winner. One team will collapse forward across the finish line first, both will be out of breath, and the rest of the dizzied NBA world will be out of adjectives, leaving it to network execs to handle the buildup to Game 8 on Christmas Day.

Some historic series, obviously, with the best yet to come. Game 7s are the best anyway, even if the crescendo moment ends in a blowout, but that will especially be the case this time because it's the defending champions at home with the chance to prove their composure in the first round against an upstart.

The champion, veteran Celtics. Needing to prove their composure.

Strange. But that was a lot of it Thursday in Chicago, right? Rajon Rondo arm-whipping Kirk Hinrich into the scorer's table in a move that easily could have earned an early ejection with the Celtics already shorthanded. Boston wasting an eight-point lead with three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter with the chance to close the series. Paul Pierce fouling out on an ill-advised attempt to block Joakim Noah's running dunk in the third overtime.

No one has the momentum heading into showdown Saturday, but, strangely, it's the Celtics needing to prove they can carry themselves as a championship contender. Unlike in Game 6, in other words.

It has nothing to do with playing without Kevin Garnett. He's an emotional leader among his many star qualities and that is obviously missing, but that's no explanation for the collective brain freeze. Among the countless things that stood out Thursday, that's the one that needs to change the most before overtime Saturday.

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