Ray Allen hitting a triple with a hand in his face from the corner. John Salmons slashing to the rim for a tough make and a foul. Paul Pierce from the top of the key on an isolation jumper. Derrick Rose with a running layup off a high pick from Brad Miller.
Those seemed like the most likely game-winning scenarios in the latest epic battle between the Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls, one which somehow upped the previous five games by going three overtime periods. (Seriously, can you recall a more entertaining NBA playoff game in recent history? I can’t.)
But of all the potential ways the Bulls’ could have turned the tide on this crucial, season-saving Game 6 win, this was one most would never have envisioned:
6-11 Joakim Noah, trapping All-Star and future Hall of Famer Paul Pierce at the top of the key and forcing a steal. 6-11 Noah picking up the loose ball and lumbering down the court with Pierce trailing about a half step behind. And then, incredibly, unpredictably, majestically and with a high degree of filth, the 6-11 Noah rose for a running one-handed jam. Count it. Foul Paul Pierce, his sixth. Count the free throw. And count ETB as Chicago Bulls converts, at least for this round.
My colleague Mr. Thell’s reaction over chat to Noah’s dunk: “I nearly choked on my cracker and salmon dip. Regardless of what happens here, Chicago is winning fans right now.”
There was a lot more basketball to be played after Noah’s disgusting heroics, but that’s the play that’ll stand out in the minds of Bulls and Celtics fans alike this evening. Scratch that, of general NBA basketball fans, the group that’s enjoying this series just as much as those watchers out there with personal attachments to one of the teams.
Seven overtime periods. Countless ties. Nail-biting finishes. Major momentum swings. Star power. Underdogs rising up. Champions fighting back. Clutch shots, crucial mental mistakes, personal atonement. Game 7.
There’s nothing this series hasn’t given fans of professional basketball. This is what it’s all about. As Mr. Thell so aptly put it after Derrick Rose’s huge Game 1 effort, greatness is why we watch. And greatness is exactly what we’ve gotten in this first-round series.
There was so much to admire in Game 6 alone: Ray Allen’s 51 points, including a record-tying 9 triples and a slew of huge shots down the stretch that kept his team in the game. John Salmons’ 35 huge points for the Bulls that made up for a lackluster effort from Ben Gordon. Glen “Big Fatty” Davis’ head-scratching repertoire of offensive moves and jumpers that totaled 23 big points. Brad Miller’s 23 points, 10 boards, and 5 free-throw makes out of 5 free-throw attempts off the bench.
And, of course, the 2009 NBA Rookie of the Year, Derrick Rose, making up for his tepid, balls-in-his-stomach play for much of the fourth quarter and overtime stanzas with The Block Heard Around the World on Rajon Rondo’s potential game-winning shot in the waning moments of the third overtime. Rose finished with 28 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists, and that 1 block (along with 5 turnovers).
What else can be said? We’re floored. Game 7 is Saturday night in Boston. Let’s go Bulls.
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