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Paul Pierce Lives: Boston 106, Bulls 104

With the season on the line in overtime, the Celtics, thinner than they’ve been all year long, simply threw out the playbook and let the two best players on the floor take them home with simple one-on-one plays. In the last two minutes of regulation and overtime, Boston shot 8-of-10 from the floor, and Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo combined to hit seven of those field goals, including an epic five straight from the Captain. They manufactured points when Perkins was too tired to score, Ray Allen had fouled out, Marbury was afraid to shoot, Tony Allen was a non-factor and Glen Davis was forced out of the game by the Bulls small line-up. 

The last four Pierce baskets were jump shots, and the last three, including the game-winner with 3.6 seconds left, were simple pull-ups over John Salmons. I’m not sure where this ranks on the list of all-time clutch Pierce performances, but it’s up there. 

Paul Pierce is gassed. We can all see it. Kevin Harlan called him slow. He took just six shots combined in the second and third quarters. John Salmons was beating Pierce off the dribble–a guy with a bad groin was coasting around the man who helped hold Kobe Bryant to 40 percent shooting in the Finals last season. 

And yet Pierce found something inside of him to move a little quicker and jump a little higher when the Celtics needed him most. 

As for Rondo, he didn’t do anything fancy late in the game. Twice in overtime he got the ball on the right wing and dribbled into Kirk Hinrich’s body. It was bold, improvisational basketball: I’m quicker than you, and I’m just going to put my head down and pull up for a shot at some location in the paint. I’ll figure it out when I get there. Once, with 2:42 left, he laid the ball in. On the next possession, he drew a foul on Hinrich and hit both free throws.

Combined, Pierce and Rondo shot 23-of-44, accounting for a smidge more than half of the C’s 86 field goal attempts. Throw in 24 more FGAs from Perkins and Davis, and that leaves just 18 shots for the rest of the team. 

Before we got to the macro-level problems this game exposed, let’s take a minute to salute these four guys. They all played at least 41 minutes, shot 37-of-68, grabbed 40 of the C’s 44 rebounds and turned the ball over just eight times between them. They held  Chicago to 40 percent shooting, compared to 49 percent for Boston; the Bulls were in this game because they hit nine threes, grabbed 14 offensive boards and were +11 in made free throws. All things to be addressed in prepping for Game 6.

For now, let’s thank those four players for basically winning the game by themselves. Those of us who know this team have been singing Perk’s praises all year, so it’s going to be nice when pundits across the NBA world take notice of his 16-19-7 line. The Celtics needed every one of those seven blocks, especially his rejection of a Derrick Rose put-back attempt with 3:02 left in OT and Boston up by one. Watch that clip carefully, and you see Perk barely got off the ground. He had nothing left.

Want more evidence those blocks mattered? According numbers from ESPN’s Stats and Information Group, Chicago players being guarded by Perkins shot 3-of-18 for the game and the Bulls hit on only 10-of-31 lay-up attempts. Call it the Beast Effect.

Oh, and ZERO personal fouls for the Beast. You know how many times that’s happened in the last two regular seasons? Five. Playoffs? None. Phenomenal defense. 

As for Davis, the genius of the Bulls small line-up wasn’t that it created mismatches for them when they had the ball–those disappeared once Doc went small himself and inserted Tony Allen. The line-up actually hurts Boston more on offense, because it removes Davis, a threat when his shot his falling, and forces Doc to either gamble with Marbury/House or insert a reluctant and unreliable TA. 

But Doc did have one chance to get Davis in the game on offense: when Boston got the ball with 49 seconds left in regulation and the score tied 91-91 and called time out to set up a play. But Doc, enamored with the concept of having four “shooters” on the floor, kept Baby on the bench and inserted Marbury. And that’s when Pierce drove to the middle, drew the defense and dished to Marbury for a three-pointer so wide open the crowd groaned when he passed the ball to Rondo along the baseline. 

The fact that Marbury was on the court at such a crucial time is symbolic of why this series is so competitive. The Celtics are paying the price for a year of endless changes–some the result of injuries and bad luck, others self-inflicted. You lose KG for 25 games, and suddenly Paul Pierce is playing the most minutes he’s played since ’05-06 and he’s exhausted in April. You try and fill the gaps by signing two mercurial players who aren’t familiar with your system, and you get to the playoffs and realize they aren’t ready to contribute. A couple of role players who are familiar with your system miss the last chunk of the regular season with injuries and aren’t as prepared as you’d like for the post-season.

As the playoffs approached, we all talked ourselves into the notion that this team was getting healthy for a run at the title. The reality was that the Celtics were thin and lacking in reliable players. 

The Bulls are playing well, but the Celtics are a vulnerable team. 

After the jump, some bullets on the officiating, TA’s foul and camera angles that apparently don’t exist.
• I’m not going to spend a lot of time criticizing the fouls on Ray Allen. At least three were questionable, but questionable calls are going to go against your team sometimes. On a related topic, I will say this: There isn’t a more inconsistently, haphazardly-officiated call in the league than the illegal/moving screen. What percentage of screens in the NBA are legal if we’re enforcing the letter of the law? Perkins has been getting nailed with illegal screen calls all season, but every big guy sets illegal picks several times per game. And if you’re going to allow that, it’s not fair to whistle defensive players for trying to get through those screens. 

• The Tony Allen foul on Ben Gordon with 27 seconds left in overtime and the Celtics up 104-101 was obviously inexcusable and a nice microcosm for why Tony Allen has not yet reached his potential as a player. He’s the ultimate “everything but” player. His defense on Gordon was perfect for the entire possession–until the crucial moment when he actually had to finish the job. 

That said, how in the world do we not have a sideline camera angle available immediately to see if Ben Gordon stepped out of bounds? How is this possible in 2009? That could have been the single biggest missed call of the playoffs, but I’m left to wonder about it as if it’s some unknowable mystery? Come on. 

• On the Twitter last night (yes, we have a Twitter account. Follow us!), Henry Abbott wondered if Rajon Rondo hit Brad Miller in the face on purpose with two seconds left in overtime. I don’t think so. I think it was a moment of desperation, and Rondo was reaching for something, anything that would break up the sure lay-in. Luckily, it worked. 

• To this day, I feel bad for guys–even Boston opponents–who miss big free throws at the end of games. Same way I feel bad for field goal kickers who miss clutch kicks in the NFL. The fact that athletes can shake that stuff off shocks me. 

• We’ll have a lot more on this game tomorrow and we’ll prep you for Game 6. For now, I’m going to bed–if I can sleep.

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  • MajorTom

    A Mikki-free game….how great it is! Every time he steps on the floor I wonder(hope) if anyone is going to take him out, a la Nancy Kerrigan.

  • It's nice that Mikki's not playing, but it's not like the team couldn't have figured out he wasn't a productive player anymore when they signed him.

  • WindyCityEx-Pat

    I don't like Paul Pierce. But the Bulls should have double-teamed him down the stretch. That fade-away (or fall-away, as they say around here) was deadly. I also liked his post-game comments, during which he dismissed talk of being tired (something like: "Man, when we were kids, we'd play 3-4 games in a day. We'd just play.").

    But I still think that Gillette (located right down the street from the TD BankNorthMut Garden Presented by Fleet) should hold a promotional event where someone spares us all and shaves off Pierce's mangy, pre-teen facial hair. It almost makes me regret my recent HD upgrade.

    As for Rondo's face-grab of Brad Miller, I'm alright with the call. But I do think that if that had happened in, say, the 2nd quarter, or in Chicago, the refs would have called it a flagrant. Is there a term for the unofficial "situational" reffing that is obviously a big part of the NBA? If Miller does the same thing to Rondo in that situation, there's a flagrant call — and a whole lot of screaming, sweaty Boston dudes in over-sized Tedy Bruschi jerseys.

  • Q

    I have a fantasy for a new reality/gambling show: Joakim Noah is (anonymously) dropped into a serious pick-up game in Harlem or somewhere, and asked to set picks for his teammates. Vegas sets the over/under on how long until a) he's threatened by one of the other players for setting moving screens; and b) actual violence ensues as a result of a moving pick.

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  • TRad

    Guys, Celtics have redefined the meaning of the term "moving pick".

    Take a look at this:
    And this:

    Boston is using plays from New England Patriots playbook, so don't whine about officiating the illegal screens, please.

    Re: Rondo's foul – it's easy: no official would whistle a flagrant in such situation. Boston is the dirtiest team in the NBA – so why shouldn't Celtics hit opponents heads? It wasn't the first time, after all. The win is secured, and it is the only thing that matters.

    And no, I'm not a Bulls fan. I'm neutral and it's worrying me that a great serie is spoiled by biased officiating.

  • KOD

    I thought this comment I made from yesterday was worth trotting out again today, since last night's gem gives it even more resonance:

    "There’s real merit in defending a title with tenacity, and doing it no matter what hand you’re dealt in terms of key injuries.

    Sure it is gravely disappointing that this Celtics team doesn’t have KG and a fully-healthy squad to battle King James and Kobe for the crown, but that doesn’t mean you shut it down and roll over.

    The Celtics have battled injuries seemingly all season, and yet Pierce, Allen, Rondo, House, Perk, and Big Baby have risen to the occasion and led this team in an admirable defense of their title – posting an impressive 62 win season and battling a young, talented Bulls team with nothing to lose and everything to gain in the league’s best 1st round series in the NBA playoffs thus far.

    Celtic Pride is on display with this group right now, and before the book closes on this trying season, my belief is that Pierce, Allen, and Rondo will lead them as far as they can possibly go – with everything left out on the floor and no regrets. What more can we really ask of them?"

  • BeansMakeWind

    WindyCityEx-Pat needs to remember that Paul Pierce got stabbed 11 times in 2000 and can still play basketball with anyone in the NBA. The shaving comment was unnecessary. Getting your face slit open will make anyone think twice about putting a blade to their face, even to shave. Name another player that has had his lung punctured and can still drain a jumper in a 2nd overtime playoff game. You can't handle The Truth.

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