AP Photo/Michael Dwyer
The great series had to end. Some predicted a Celtics blow-out, some suggested a Bulls upset victory, while many presumed it would reach at least one overtime period before ending again in epic fashion. The answer was neither of those, or perhaps somewhere in between. The game didn’t reach the nail-biting heights of Games 1, 2, 4, 5 or 6 (seems ridiculous I have to almost list the entire series), but do not let the final score fool you – this was by no means a comfortable win for the Celtics.
Here is my Game 7 diary from the Garden.
- The first thing that hit me when I walked into the TD Banknorth Garden was the realization “the championship was won here last year”. This is where it happened. This is where I saw the streamers coming down and KG crying his face off and the Lakers completely embarrassed. It made me realise how short-lived that glory really is, because right now we’re one month away from that happening again. Wherever that may be.
- The second thought I had was about my old housemate, Wibo. Over the past couple of years I had seen him transform into quite an obsessive Celtics fan, specializing in the worship of Ray Allen. Troweling through this blog for either Boston Celtics or Ray Allen tags will no doubt find you countless mentions of him. He would loved to have been here. I would loved to have been here with him. Hope you’re traveling well Wibs.
- This Garden crowd was loud. L.O.U.D. By far the most deafening stadium I have been in, and maybe that’s not a surprise being a Game 7.
- The Bulls made a perfect start. Aggressive, precise, fearless. Gordon made shots and stamped his authority on the game, as did the rookie Rose. Boston were on the back foot within minutes.
- I was sitting in the upper media section, and five minutes into the game I was quite surprised to see none other than Mike Wilbon (of PTI fame) and Jon Barry (ESPN) sit next to me. Surely these guys had court-side media seats? What were they doing up here? Either way it made the game a lot more fun. These guys are just big sports fans at the end of the day, and they were talking and hollering and arguing with each other – and me – the whole time. Wilbon is a funny guy. The way he talks to you during the game is exactly the way he talks to Tony during PTI. Jon spent a lot of the game Tweeting for SportsCenter.
- At the 7:09 mark, Scalabrine comes in. In general, Scalabrine coming into any game at the 7:09 minute mark of the first quarter is not a good sign.
- Derrick Rose promptly pulls off block of the game on Scal. Still waiting for this to hit YouTube – don’t miss it.
- Ben Gordon is unconscious in the first quarter earning several “wow”s from me, Jon and Wilbon. I found myself marveling at the difference between Gordon and Ray Allen, who guarded each other for much of the game, but are so completely different when it comes to offense. Ray is a perfectionist. He has mastered his jump shot and he follows the exact same launch sequence before every release – he will never take the shot if this sequence is compromised. Ben Gordon is the opposite. He fires with reckless abandon and without predefined form – he just makes it up as he goes along. Ray’s methods are more suited to consistency, Gordon’s streakiness. But it’s Gordon’s that are so many degrees harder to defend, because you don’t know exactly what you’re trying to stop.
- Early in the second quarter, with Chicago ahead by 10, Scalabrine steps up and hits a three. It is incredible, but he has scored the Celtics last 8 points. “Scal is keeping them in the game?” my subconscious confusingly asked. When Brian Scalabrine is keeping you in the game, in a Game 7, you are generally in trouble. “They have no offense” Wilbon kept screaming. It was true. It had all dried up for the Celtics. The Bulls looked like the more poised, experienced team, taking apart a team that was jittery and wasteful.
- And then I suddenly realised something about the same time the Celtics apparently did: there is a reason they won the championship last year. Defense. The Celtics turned it up another level defensively over the last 8 minutes of the second quarter, and it was like a massive vice clamping down on the game. Before I knew it – and it happened very quickly – the Celtics were within 1, and then there was House.
- It is of my opinion that Eddie House was the single reason the Celtics won this game. I know it was a fairly balanced effort, but when the game was up for grabs, it was House that seized it and strangled it and never let it it go. His threes were massive momentum bombs that electrified the crowd and his teammates and you could see the Bulls slightly wilting when they dropped. I think what made House’s impact all the more damaging for Chicago was the element of shock and surprise – here was a guy who largely stank it up the entire series, and now, in Game 7, he decides to unleash himself? Before we knew it, the half had ended with a 22-2 Boston run. They would go into the break up by 13 and never to trail again.
- The third quarter was where the drama kicked in and things started getting chippy. Ben Gordon had arms flailing on every play trying to draw fouls, and trying a little too hard to force his own shot – to the detriment of his team at that point.
- Noah’s “hard foul” on Rondo sent Rondo crashing to the ground in a performance most Brazilian soccer players would have been proud of. Noah gave him a slight tug, it was a definite foul, but Rondo made it look 100 times worse. “He milked it” I said to Wilbon. He nodded in agreement while Jon Barry was waving his hands in disbelief – he did not concur.
- One minute later it happened again, this time Brad Miller fouling Rondo and again Rondo ended up face-first lying on the ground. Another Oscar winning performance, and it was about at this point where I realised I had kind of had enough of Rajon Rondo’s antics in this series. He was lucky to even be playing in this game after throwing Hinrich into the scorers table. A series of cheap shots and over-acting kind of wears thin on you after a while – he’s clearly a great talent, but he needs to learn a thing or two about integrity.
- The fourth quarter felt like a fencing match when most of the other games in this series felt like a boxing match. The Bulls remained tantalizingly close for most of the quarter, but never got close enough to land a solid blow. They got within 3 with five minutes to play and within 5 with one minute to play, but they couldn’t sink the miracle shot they needed. The perfect example was with 30 seconds left, after Hinrich made a tip shot to cut the Celtics lead to 6. The Bulls played some great defense on that inbounds play and Hinrich actually stole the ball and got it to Gordon on the perimeter who launched a 27-foot bomb. In Game 1 or 2 or 4 or 5 or 6, that bomb goes in. In Game 7, it didn’t.
- When Eddie House hit the three with 2:30 left the roof almost blew off the place. It was mayhem. That single moment was unlike anything I’ve experienced in any game of my trip so far. In the scale of “Frenzied Crowd Moments” during my time in the USA, that gets the 10. That is the benchmark. God I’m glad I came to Boston.
- Despite the Bulls never getting close enough late, I could sense that this Boston crowd were nervous enough with their lead being at six. The guy next to me reporting for some Chinese magazine – and an obvious Boston fan – was literally wiping sweat from his forehead when the lead was 6 or 8. This Celtics team had been burnt enough times in this series by miracle Chicago finishes – they knew this thing could turnaround very quickly. I guess “relief” was one of the overriding feelings in the building when the final seconds ticked off the clock. Relief that “Hey, this isn’t going to OT. Ben Gordon can’t hit a 10-pointer… we’re actually going to win this and I will get home before midnight!”.
After the game I was in the Celtics locker room, speaking to a few of the players, Ray, Marbury and Perkins, but mostly Glen Davis, Eddie House and Scalabrine.
- Glen Davis is a pretty playful guy and lives up to his “big baby” moniker in personality too. He didn’t look like he just played the most important game of the season. “Boy am I hungry” he muttered while putting his shirt on, getting ready to ask questions for the media. “Over in 48! How you like that?” he shouted. He spoke about how everything flowed tonight, the starters produced, the bench was big, their defense was great. I asked him, how after such a draining series, how they could turn it around so quickly for Orlando in two days? “Same as last year” he said. “You know.. we’re used to turnaround’s after a Game 7″. How did he rate this series, which was being called one of the greatest ever? “I’m glad I was a part of it… as a basketball fan, this series was great to watch”.
- Eddie House was reluctant to be called a “hero” on this night, instead calling it a total team effort. “Take your hat off to the Bulls.. they were great”. Every Celtics player I spoke to said the same thing one way or another – give the Bulls credit. I guess that’s normal when another team makes you work your butt off for 7 games. “You all got your money’s worth this series.. or at least your cable subscriptions” which everyone laughed at. “I’m going home to watch the Pacquiao fight” he said, before walking off. I know he was just trying to say the team thing, but Eddie really was the hero tonight. You don’t pull out your best performance of the series – by far – with a 5/5 shooting display in Game 7 and NOT be the hero.
- Scalabrine was also huge tonight, shooting 3/6 and playing big minutes when Perkins and Davis were in foul trouble. Despite his and Eddie’s efforts off the bench, he too deflected the praise. He pointed out Rondo, Pierce and Ray, saying that it all started with them, and without them making the right plays and decisions then guys like Eddie and himself wouldn’t get the opportunities. To prove his point he mentioned one play, late in the fourth, when he found himself with the ball with 8 seconds on the shot clock needing to create a shot for himself. But of course, it’s Brian Scalabrine we’re talking about. ‘Creating shots’ is not something he generally does. So what did he do? He called time-out. Me, along with a few others standing around, almost laughed when he told the story – and he did say it in that classic dry-humorous Scalabrine manner. But the message was clear – what empowered guys like Eddie and Scal to stand up tonight was the play of the Celtics leaders. Some nights they get the glory because they take and make the big shots. Tonight they deferred and the other guys stood up. It’s not surprising really. It’s what makes the Celtics the champs.
- I caught the end of Ray Allen’s interview in the locker rooms. I actually left the locker rooms at one point thinking he might never show. This is Ray Allen after all, the man is as meticulous with his grooming as he is with his game preparation – he could be in that bathroom all night! But it was our encounter half an hour earlier, albeit only brief, that will forever stay in my mind. I saw him pop out of the players room, “hey Ray” I said as he walked towards the showers. He was holding a towel around his waist, grinning from ear to ear. He didn’t say anything to me. He just raised his head slightly and kept smiling, gliding across the floor. “God he’s so smooth” I said to myself. After living with the world’s biggest Ray Allen fan for two years, someone who obsessed over Ray’s style and smoothness off the court just as much as on, this was perhaps the fitting image for my first ever glimpse of Ray in the flesh. Whenever I think of Ray Allen now, that is what I see. Ray, smiling back at me with those glistening eyes, clasping a towel covering half of his hairless body. It’s actually quite disturbing. Something tells me my housemate would love it though.
Onto the votes then:
3 votes – Eddie House. It really was a balanced effort by the Celts tonight, but Eddie was the firecracker. Without his threes and energy and taunting (even though he got T’d for it) the Celtics don’t win this game.
2 votes – Paul Pierce. Not a big game offensively, but made some great passes that set up the win – two to Perkins late in the game come to mind. Perfect examples of great decision making under pressure.
1 vote – Kendrick Perkins. KG must be really proud of how this guy is anchoring the middle for the Celtics in his absence. Another authoritative performance from him tonight: 14 points, 13 rebounds on 6-8 shooting. Good luck next round KP. You’ll need it.