BOSTON -- His feet wore flip-flops, his knees were wrapped in ice and his nostril was stitched like
For 6 hours and 11 minutes of first-round basketball his Celtics had been pushed, surprised and above all threatened with the humiliation of losing to a No. 7 seed. By ridding themselves of the Chicago Bulls 109-99 (
"That's what the motivation is,'' Pierce said of his team's escape. "We said every day, 'Don't forget who we are. We're the champs.' So regardless of what goes on out on that court, win or lose, that's got to be our attitude in the locker room coming out to play every night.''
This was a series between one team ambitious to prove it was far better than its .500 regular-season record versus another team that was obstinate about overcoming the absence of
"I had more calls from other coaches in the league,'' Boston coach
Like a devilish Jason on any number of
"I really believed I was going to need them,'' Rivers said of his heretofore helpless subs. "I didn't know if I
But his second unit wound up outscoring highly productive Bulls subs
All of these efforts contributed to a series-changing 22-2 run to conclude the opening half and undo the strong start of the visitors. Following a
"We turned into the Celtics again,'' Rivers said. "We started playing defense, getting stops. We thought if we could get stops and rebounds, we could be the transition team tonight.''
In an exchange of roles, the Celtics scored 14 of the game's 19 fast-break points, while through three quarters the half-court Bulls outshot their hosts 27-18 in free throw attempts (with Gordon going 15-of-15 from the line overall as part of his game-high 33 points.) The Celtics were unable to break off a second-half run as the Bulls matched them score for score and then some, pulling within 89-86 midway through the final period. But the Celtics put Chicago into the bonus four minutes into the quarter and earned 17 points at the foul line in the fourth to steady themselves home.
So now Boston moves on to the second round against No. 3 seed Orlando, which has won both of its games against the Celtics since Garnett was sidelined in February. Before Game 7, the Celtics' staff had put detailed scouting reports in their players' cars, both as necessity of the quick turnaround as well as to show confidence that they would beat the underdogs once and for all. The next series begins Monday, further dampening any thought of celebrating this first-round adventure that the Celtics never imagined would push them so far.
As Rivers approached his locker room a half-hour after the win, who did he run into but Bulls coach
"Hell of a job,'' Rivers said. "Trade all of them guys -- I don't want to see them anymore!''
With that, the Celtics' coach allowed himself one hearty laugh. And then he continued down the hallway, head down, as he considered how in the names of Moore and Marbury he is going to beat Orlando.