Time-tested series has all the extras
CHICAGO - And so after 24 regulation quarters, 7 overtimes, 106 lead changes, 65 ties, and more stitches than the Stanley Cup playoffs, we are going where this thing has been headed all along . . .
Game 7. A Smashmouth Finale. And a true May Day Alert for Your World Champion Boston Celtics.
One of the great NBA playoff series of all time was forced to the limit last night when the Bulls beat the Celtics, 128-127, in triple overtime (what else?) at the United Center. Game 6 had more blood (Paul Pierce, nasal laceration), more pressure, and more of the high blood pressure these teams have caused since the seventh-seeded Bulls stunned the Celtics in overtime in the first game 13 days ago.
What else is left? Kevin Garnett pulling a Willis Reed at the Garden tomorrow night? Maybe Larry and Michael coming out of retirement to settle the thing once and for all.
"I don't know what to say about this series," said Celtics captain Paul Pierce, who fouled out chasing down Joakim Noah after a crucial turnover near the end of the third overtime. "It's a phenomenal series. It's been great for the fans. Everybody is getting their money's worth."
Amen. If you are a fan of roundball theater, it simply cannot get any better than this. The Celtics are going to play the Bulls one more time tomorrow night, and the winner advances to the Eastern Conference semifinals against Orlando, but we should savor what has happened in front of our eyes over the last fortnight. If this was an NBA Finals, it would be in the conversation as the best series of all time.
People are making incredible plays and leaving everything on the floor. Game after game.
Look at some of the numbers from last night. Ray Allen had 51 points. He looked like a guy throwing apples into an oil drum. Rajon Rondo had 19 assists and zero turnovers.
Repeat, 19 assists and zero turnovers. Certainly this must be something like Roger Clemens striking out 20 batters without walking anyone.
Overall, the Celtics committed only 11 turnovers in 63 minutes. Boston's entire starting frontcourt fouled out of the game. The Celtics trailed by 10 in the fourth quarter but went on an 18-0 run.
Naturally, it couldn't be settled in regulation. And that is where Doc Rivers thought the game was lost. Boston led by 8 with less than three minutes to play.
"We saw that score and had a chance to close it out," said Rivers. "We stopped playing. We tried to hold on to the game the last three minutes. If we're going to win, we're going to win with our defense and we didn't do that tonight."
The first overtime ended on Pierce's airball. In the second OT, Allen connected twice from long distance in the final 20 seconds, but one of them only counted for 2. Ray had one foot over the line when he heaved from the right corner while wearing Noah. It proved costly.
"It seemed like it was in the air for five minutes," said Chicago coach Vinny Del Negro.
In the final OT, young Noah stole a Pierce pass (intended for Jackie Moon Scalabrine) in the Celtics' end, beat Pierce down the floor, and slammed the ball through the rim as Pierce committed his sixth foul. Noah's free throw made it 126-123 with 35.5 seconds left.
The Celtics had one last chance after Kirk Hinrich blew a layup (Hinrich maneuver?) and Derrick Rose missed two free throws with 3.2 seconds left. But Boston was out of timeouts and Rondo's half-court heave was not close. So we move on to tomorrow night on Causeway Street.
The Celtics have been in a lot of seventh games. Bill Russell participated in just a few winner-take-all games. Last spring, the Celtics won at home in seven against Atlanta, then Cleveland.
"We've earned the right to play this one at home," said Rivers.
"There's no pressure on us," said Del Negro. "The pressure is on them. It's their building. They're the defending world champs . . . As a kid, this is what you dream about."
"We'll be ready," said Pierce.
Don't depend on public transportation for the finale. The game doesn't start until 8, which means the MBTA might be dark by the time the Celtics and Bulls finally finish this spectacular first-round series.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.