Bulls rookie dazzles Celtics
Paul Pierce predicted that defending their NBA title would be among the toughest tasks the Celtics ever face. And that was before they lost their playoff opener, 105-103, in overtime to the Chicago Bulls yesterday at TD Banknorth Garden.
Though Pierce said the team will recover in Game 2 tomorrow, home-court advantage was squandered. Plus, the Bulls gained confidence and momentum, removing doubts about their lack of postseason experience.
Rookie guard Derrick Rose led the way, scoring 36 points and adding 11 assists. And Tyrus Thomas added 6 overtime points, including the deciding jumper from the corner with 50.5 seconds remaining.
There were signs the Celtics might not ready from the start. Pierce missed a jumper on their opening possession, and 6-foot-11-inch Bulls center Joakim Noah outraced everyone for a transition dunk, the first indication Boston might not keep up with the athleticism and enthusiasm of the Bulls.
"I thought early on - first of all, we had no defensive energy," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "To think that we worked on transition 'D' for two days and the first play of the game Noah gets a dunk. Now, that was extremely disappointing."
In fact, Rivers and the Celtics were more disappointed than that. The coach was upset with the players and the players were upset with themselves.
"It's not acceptable," said guard Ray Allen, who was 1 for 12 from the field. "We're all beside ourselves, you know, we're angry. But at least we know where we stand, what we need to do."
Part of the Celtics' problem was the absence of Kevin Garnett, who kept a high-profile presence on the bench in the first half, then went to the locker room to view the second half. Instead of going to the post, the Celtics fell into one-pass-and- shoot tendencies, firing away from the perimeter as a first option.
With Garnett in the lineup - he has been out since early March and "he ain't coming back," Rivers emphatically reminded everyone at a postgame news conference - such fire-it-up habits seldom lasted.
In the first half, the shoot-early-and-often campaign was especially self-defeating as the Celtics shot 39.1 percent from the field - despite center Kendrick Perkins and point guard Rajon Rondo combining for 10-for-14 shooting.
"Our energy, it can't be that way," Pierce said. "And as captain of this ball club, I can't allow that, for us to come out as flat we came out.
"We've got to understand, hey, this is the playoffs. You lose, you go home, so we have to have a better sense of urgency from the jump each and every game, and I promise you that we will."
The Celtics actually seemed in command late in regulation, but Pierce missed a free throw that could have broken a 97-97 tie with 2.6 seconds to go.
Glen Davis gave the Celtics the lead with a lefthand drive 18 seconds into overtime, then they squandered a chance to increase the edge as Ray Allen forced a Ben Gordon airball but lost possession in transition.
It was more than an uncharacteristic shooting performance by Allen. Not only did he go 0 for 6 on 3-pointers, he misfired on the potential game-tying shot before the OT buzzer and even missed a late first-half dunk.
Late in regulation, the Celtics went on an 8-point run to take an 87-84 lead. Allen had a chance to extend the advantage but missed a three in transition. Gordon hit a 17-footer with 2:32 remaining, then concluded a 3-point play after a Davis foul shot for an 89-88 Chicago lead with 1:54 remaining. Eighteen seconds later, Pierce lost possession and Thomas increased the Bulls' lead to 3.
Then things got hectic.
Rose scored with an inbounds play drive with 31.1 seconds remaining, and Rondo countered 10 seconds later with a hook off a rebound of an Allen miss - the Celtics' only field goal in the final 3:27 of regulation.
Tony Allen stopped a Gordon shot, official Bennett Salvatore awarding possession to the Celtics for a traveling violation, then Eddie F. Rush reversed the call with 12.1 seconds to go. Rose drew a foul from Rondo 2.7 seconds later, the Bulls leading by 1 after two free throws. Pierce was double-teamed, drawing a foul from Noah and converting to tie, 97-97, but he missed the second shot with those 2.6 seconds to go.
"It actually felt good," Pierce said of the second free throw. "I thought it was going in and it went right in and out.
"But those are the breaks of the game. Just one little play, one little missed free throw, cost the game. We took it on the chin and that's the way it is. And we're going to bounce back."
The Celtics failed to capitalize on Gordon's overtime airball, the Bulls taking the lead on jumpers by Thomas and John Salmons. Rondo and Perkins failed to connect, but Gordon missed as Perkins challenged. Perkins then hooked in a tying shot with 1:58 left.
Ten seconds later, Thomas restored the Chicago lead. Pierce tied the score, 103-103, with a jumper, then the Celtics regained possession on a 3-second violation, with Pierce missing.
Thomas then hit the deciding shot, a corner jumper out of a timeout with 50.5 seconds left. Davis missed underneath, then fouled out with 32.6 seconds remaining. Thomas was off on a baseline shot, Pierce rebounding and calling timeout with 11.6 seconds remaining. Rose committed his sixth foul with 10.3 ticks remaining.
Pierce's drive was blocked with 3.7 seconds remaining and the Celtics called a 20-second timeout, Allen shooting on target but long from the corner opposite the Bulls' bench.
The last time the Celtics won the NBA title after losing their playoff opener was in 1966.
"I told our guys, 'Let's stop going back to last year,' " Rivers said. "This is this year. We lost Game 1 at home. We can't show up and think because we're the Boston Celtics that everything is going to be good.
"All the guys that were in that experience last year, yeah, I'm hoping it helps. But don't lean on that. The Bulls can care less about what happened last year."