Derrick Rose versus Rajon Rondo. Point, Rose. Winner!
Ray Allen versus Ben Gordon. Point, Allen. Winner!
Basketball is a game played by 10 men, but in both Games 1 and 2, it was two who decided the winner. On Saturday, it was Rose overwhelming the Boston defense with his blazing speed and staggering strength on his way to a 36-point, 11-assist performance and a Chicago victory.
On Monday, it was Allen, who, after submitting a 1-for-12 clunker just 48 hours earlier and inexplicably being questioned by local blogs and sports talk radio like he had just played in his first playoff game and not his 64th, knocked down nine of his 18 shots (including 4-of-7 in the fourth quarter) en route to 30 points. He scored 28 of those points in the second half, including the tiebreaking three-pointer with two seconds left, to outlast his fellow Connecticut alumnus Gordon (42 points) and help Boston beat Chicago 118-115 (BOX |RECAP).
"It almost looked like they turned it into a personal battle," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said after the defending champions evened the first-round series at 1-1. "You know, who is the best UConn player to ever play. It was amazing."
Amazing? Even that adjective might not be strong enough to describe the fourth quarter. With Gordon challenging the entire Celtics roster to a game of H-O-R-S-E in the final minutes -- the official stat sheet describes two of Gordon's final three shots as "fading" and "step back," but my notebook reads "floating across the floor" and "think he faded north and south in mid-air" for the attempts -- it was Allen who had the last chance. On a brilliantly designed play by Rivers, Allen criss-crossed the right side of the floor with Paul Pierce, slipped away from Kirk Hinrich and Joakim Noah and knocked down the game-winning three-pointer over Noah's outstretched fingertips.
"With Paul looping over the top of Ray, it put [the Bulls] in a tough situation," Rivers said. "Either they switched it and Paul would have gotten a deep post or they didn't and then they had to follow Ray. Right when I saw Paul curl, I saw their two smalls get mixed up. I actually thought Ray was going to be wide open. And when he got it, Noah came from nowhere. That was a hell of a recovery by him."
Hell of a shot, too. Especially when you consider that just 48 hours earlier Allen was being asked if he had lost it. Allen's miserable Game 1 seemed to fuel the panicky questions about his sweet stroke. It was as if Ray Allen was suddenly Allan Ray. Never mind that Allen tied a career high in shooting percentage (48.0) this season. Or that he connected on better than 40 percent of his three-point attempts for the first time in three years. Allen, you see, had lost his rhythm.
Whoops ... he got it back.
"I never think I'm not in my rhythm," Allen said. "I'm too drilled at knowing how to get that shot. Doc said something to me going into the third quarter. He said, 'Be aggressive but let it come to you.' That's exactly what I was thinking. I wasn't going to try to go out of myself, just allow the offense to kind of work its way around to me."
Said Rivers: "That's as good as I've seen, especially when you factor in he had to chase Gordon around. He had to be exhausted on one end and then making shots on the other."
The series shifts to Chicago on Thursday. With the point guards and shooting guards already having completed their duels, that means small forward is next. That's Pierce versus John Salmons. Think Karate Kid referee Pat E. Johnson can make an appearance?
1. Is Rondo going to be OK?
That's unclear. Rondo took a frightening fall when he got tangled with Rose in midair in the second quarter and didn't return until the start of the third. Rondo's stat line -- 19 points, 16 assists, and 12 rebounds -- suggests he recovered nicely, but he was limping around the locker room after the game. Rivers even described his ankle as "huge."
Boston desperately needs a healthy Rondo. Chicago turned a four-point deficit into a three-point lead in the 4½ minutes Rondo missed at the end of the first half, primarily by burning Stephon Marbury. If his ankle swells up even more overnight or if he is hobbled in Game 3 -- when he will once again have to try to check Rose -- the Celtics will be in a world of trouble.
2. What about Leon Powe?
That's not looking so good. Boston's thin frontcourt got a little thinner when Powe went down in the second quarter with a knee injury. Powe was already at the hospital when Rivers took the podium after the game, and the Celtics' coach didn't sound optimistic about having Powe available on Thursday.
That puts a ton of pressure on Mikki Moore, who has looked positively awful in the first two games, to contribute. Moore now effectively becomes Boston's first (and only) big man off the bench and must be active in keeping Tyrus Thomas and Noah off the backboards.
3. Did the Celtics' pick-and-roll defense improve in Game 2?
Hard to say. On one hand, Boston did contain Rose (10 points, seven assists). On the other hand, Rose did a pretty good job of containing himself when he got into early foul trouble. Kirk Hinrich and Lindsey Hunter are nowhere near as explosive as Rose, who never seemed to get into offensive rhythm. Part of the credit goes to Boston, which sent a few more traps at Rose and "showed" on the pick-and-roll much better than it did in Game 1.
But part of it falls to Rose, who appeared tentative at times and looked like a man trying to avoid fouling out for the second game in a row. A better test will come on Thursday, when the Bulls could get more favorable calls in front of their home crowd and Rose will get another crack at unlocking Celtics assistant coach Tom Thibodeau's defense.