Unattached basketball fans watching these playoffs for the pure majesty of its memorable moments love this classic first-round series pitting defending champion versus precocious underdog.
If it’s just a good game you’re after, each of these five contests between the Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls have delivered. A Game 1 upset on the road, in overtime, spearheaded by Rookie of the Year Derrick Rose. Four overtime periods total, in fact, by far the most in any series thus far in these intriguing 2009 playoffs.
It’s an old-school Eastern Conference bang-em-and-bruise-em matchup in which, at this point, little separates the two opponents save for battle-tested experience in the kind of heated, postseason slugfest this one has most certainly become.
Battle-tested experience, that is, and a guy named Paul Pierce.
These playoffs are littered with players who are often at their best under pressure, who relish the chance to deliver the knockout punch with a hand in their face, sweat pouring down their brow, and 20,000+ fans screaming bloody murder in their ear. Seemingly impossible shots are like uncontested layups for these guys. There’s Kobe and there’s Dirk and there’s the Bulls’ own Ben Gordon, but right now, Paul Pierce is the money player of the moment and the guy I want taking the big shot when it’s needed most.
I’m no Paul Pierce fan. I’m not a Celtics fan. And let’s be honest: outside of the greater Celtics Nation area, there are few NBA fans out there rooting for the champs to advance. Everyone loves an upset, everyone can find something to like in the overachieving underdog. Fattened cows backed into a corner? Not so much.
There’s no question, however, that Pierce’s game-saving effort on Tuesday night, those counter-punches he repeatedly delivered square to the jaw of the Chicago Bulls, were special. He’d had a solid but not particularly heroic series through four games—43% FG, 23.5 points, 5.7 boards, 1.7 assists, 3.7 turnovers per—but Game 5 was a gem that could prove to ultimately be the series’ tipping point.
With only 7 points at halftime, Pierce and the Celtics looked to be on their way to possible elimination on Thursday in Chicago; the second half was another story, particularly the fourth quarter. It started with Pierce’s isolation bucket from 15-feet with 10.5 seconds remaining in regulation that tied the game and gave his team 5 more minutes of life in overtime. And it ended with Pierce nailing his final five shots, the last of which stood as the game-winner after Chicago’s Brad Miller failed to convert his freebies with 2 seconds left.
Pierce finished with 26 points (50% FG), 7 boards, 2 steals, 1 assist, 1 block, and 2 turnovers. More importantly, the Celtics finished 106-104 and take a 3-2 lead back to Chicago. The Bulls would do well to take care of business on Thursday, and to not leave the outcome of Game 6 in doubt as the clock ticks towards zero, like they did in Game 5. They do have a Ben Gordon to call upon in such moments, but they don’t have a Paul Pierce.
– Derrick Rose – The Start of Something Special
Paul Pierce Photo Credit: Icon SMI