Second City return wasn't first choice
CHICAGO - The Windy City is great place to be this time of year. The Cubs and White Sox are back on the field. The sunshine that locals constantly say is worth braving the extreme winter for finally is arriving. And no matter what, there is always that deep-dish pizza.
But as cool as Chitown may be in the spring, the Celtics are now kicking themselves since they'd rather come back in their free time rather than being forced to return after a 121-118 double-overtime loss to the Bulls in Game 4 yesterday.
A win in Game 4 and the Celtics would be entering tomorrow's home game with a chance to wrap things up and get some much-needed rest. But after the one that got away, the NBA's defending champs are now kicking themselves about the unexpected dogfight they are in that will have them back in Chicago Thursday. Reality for second-seeded Bos ton is a tied series against seventh-seeded Chicago.
"That's how it goes," Celtics guard Rajon Rondo said. "I feel the series should be over by now. It's 2-2. We're in a fight. Give them a lot of credit. They stuck with it. They executed down the stretch very well. And we didn't."
Said Celtics forward Paul Pierce: "One or two plays and the series would be over. We gave ourselves an opportunity. But now the series is 2-2 and we have to move forward."
Moving forward from this loss won't be easy. What makes it tougher to get over for Pierce is that he was involved in two key plays that helped keep the Bulls' season very much alive.
With 18.9 seconds left in the first OT, the Celtics had a 107-106 lead with Pierce on the line shooting two free throws that could have helped seal the victory. As Pierce approached the charity stripe, Boston fans probably couldn't help but think how he missed a crucial free throw late in regulation during a 105-103 overtime loss in Game 1.
Back to Game 4, Pierce easily nailed the first free throw and was in position to give the Celtics a solid 109-106 lead. At that point, things were looking good for Boston as he had hit all seven of his previous free throws. The Celtics' captain, however, missed the second, leaving Chicago down 2 and with some hope.
"It was disappointing, but the thing is not to get down on it," said Pierce, who had 29 points on 9-of-24 shooting with six turnovers in 52 minutes. "I was disappointed about the way I played. We cannot let it carry over to the next game. We have to move on from it."
With the Celtics up, 110-107, with nine seconds left following Ray Allen's two free throws, the Bulls had the ball and rookie coach Vinny Del Negro called time out. Back in the Celtics' huddle, coach Doc Rivers and his staff made a point to let his players know that the Bulls likely would use their "flare" play to get sharpshooter Ben Gordon open for a tying 3-pointer, and that they had a foul to give. The Celtics coaches also strongly stated to their players several times to switch everything defensively.
The Bulls ran the flare play for Gordon. And with Pierce switching too late defensively, Gordon nailed a 26-foot 3-pointer with 4.5 seconds left to send the game to a second OT.
"We would have liked to get this one," Pierce said. "We gave ourselves a chance going into the first overtime. Little things in the playoffs are what kill you. Me not covering Ben Gordon on the three, coming off the flare, turnovers, things like that . . . It's a three-game series now and hopefully we can take care of business."
"It was a disappointing loss on our part," said Rivers. "Our execution down the stretch was so bad it was scary."
The Celtics, however, need to point the finger at themselves, not Pierce. Boston shot a miserable 42.1 percent from the field, gave up 54 points in the paint, was jump-shot happy, and couldn't get the key stops when they were needed.
"It's pretty tough to swallow," said Glen Davis, who missed 12 of 16 shots. "We had a chance to go up in the series and now we don't. We have to fight. The funny thing about us is we didn't even play well. We didn't execute the way we can execute. We had total control of our fate and we didn't come through."
Celtics center Kendrick Perkins, who fouled out, said, "It's always hard. But at the same time I thought we were going to win the game. A few missed assignments."
The Celtics did do some good things. Allen knocked down a big 3-pointer that sent the game into the first OT. Budding superstar guard Rajon Rondo had another fantastic performance with 25 points, 11 rebounds, and 11 assists. And the Bulls were far from perfect, missing critical free throws down the stretch.
With the Celtics' injuries in mind, a win would have put them in position to end the series tomorrow and get a lot of rest.
But Allen's big shot won't be on the highlight reel now. Rondo's triple double is a footnote. And there is now a Game 6 in Chicago Thursday night.
"This one would have been big because we are playing shorthanded," Rivers said.
The Celtics made it hard on themselves on the road to the Finals last season. A much more beat-up team is doing the same thing now with Leon Powe gone for the season and Kevin Garnett's status very much up in the air, too.
The perplexed Rivers, a Chicago native, could only come up with one explanation that might have made sense for the lost focus in the one that got away.
"Maybe we just like Chicago," Rivers said. "The pizza is freaking good."
Marc J. Spears can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org