Celtics-Bulls series one for the ages
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.
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.
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.