Rajon Rondo said he was going for the ball on the last significant sequence of the Celtics' 106-104 overtime win over Chicago last night. And the officials agreed, awarding Bulls center Brad Miller two foul shots with two seconds to go in OT.
"I was going for the ball," said Rondo, "but Miller, I don't know, he's probably 290 [pounds], maybe more than that. I'm a little guy, so I had to go for the foul hard. I wasn't trying to take a guy out or hit his head.
"But I think he took it up in his right hand and I tried to make sure he couldn't finish. I may have hit him in the head, but I went through his arm first, trying to get to the ball and make sure he couldn't get a 2-point shot up.
"I'm not a dirty player, I'm just coming out there and trying to give him a hard foul, nothing flagrant."
Celtic coach Doc Rivers agreed: "It was a great foul by Rondo. You always talk about playoff basketball, no layups. Rondo did it on the very last play and it won the game for us."
But Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro disagreed: "You have to go for the basketball and he didn't come near the basketball, he hit the face. I thought it was a flagrant. I agree it's a playoff foul, but it's still a flagrant and you have to call it."
Said Miller, "I understand hard fouls. But when you get hit in the mouth over the shoulders, that stuff just gets old after a while. We've got another game. We'll strap it on and see what happens."
The scene was set up as the Celtics prepared to stop Ben Gordon on the inbounds pass.
"I knew they were going to Ben Gordon for the three and I knew Brad Miller was going down to pick Rondo," Celtics center Kendrick Perkins said. "I wasn't even looking at Rondo, I don't know if he got screened or not. I just seen Gordon break loose to the corner, so I said I'm not letting him get that shot - all the shots he was hitting late - so I just jumped out on the three.
"Rondo kept coming, so they end up getting Brad Miller with a look, and we've got to foul him.
"A few plays before that, it was a flagrant foul on them, so it could go the other way. It wasn't a flagrant foul, it was a playoff foul."
Department of defense
The Celtics defended well against Gordon (6 for 21) and John Salmons
(5 for 15). Kirk Hinrich
(6 for 12) was the Bulls' most efficient perimeter shooter. "I feel first we've got to stop Kirk Hinrich," Perkins said. "He can't keep coming off the bench and giving us 18 points. I think if we shut Kirk Hinrich down, I think we can close out the series." The Bulls shot 40 percent from the field but topped 100 points for the fourth time in the series. "I know this is a run-and-gun-type series, we're putting up 100 points each game, but we've got to get stops," Rondo said. "We're a defensive team, we take pride in defense, and it's going to take all five guys to get on the same page and communicate, get back in transition, and clean up on the boards."
Rivers yesterday likened the chances of Kevin Garnett
returning in these playoffs to the odds of winning the lottery. Garnett has not played since March 25 because of a right knee sprain. While Rivers has left open the slight possibility of a return, he has said time and again that he isn't counting on it. Rivers added that he hasn't received any positive medical feedback lately from trainer Ed Lacerte.
"It is what I've said from the beginning," said Rivers after the morning shootaround at the Celtics' practice facility in Waltham. "Nothing has changed. It is what it is. "Obviously, we'd love to have him back. We need him back. It would be great. But having said that, it's not anything we should be hoping for. To me, it's like playing the lottery." On April 16, Rivers said Garnett was done for the season and would have surgery on his right knee to remove bone spurs. Garnett has postponed the surgery in hopes of returning. "I don't expect anything to happen," Rivers said. "If Eddie thought there was a breakthrough, he would come to me. We're just preparing [Garnett] so he can get healthy and preparing him for surgery at the same time. If he doesn't get healthy and he does have surgery, then his knee will be as strong as it can be so he can recover quicker."
Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge
attended his first playoff game since undergoing heart surgery April 16. "I feel fine, I feel good," Ainge said. "I'll make more contact with people." . . . In 23 previous situations, the Celtics have never lost a series after winning Game 5 to take a 3-2 advantage. They now have a 27-8 record in Game 5's Rivers was fined $25,000 for comments on officiating in the series. "I'm the personal stimulus package right now," said Rivers, who has been fined $65,000 this season, the money going to charity. "Actually, I think it is tax-deductible, but I don't need any more deductions."
Credit him with assist
Despite being out, Garnett has had a strong influence on the playoffs, his advice contributing to some exceptional production by Rondo. "We talked about what it takes to make me being the best player I can be," Rondo said. "It means I have to do something extra. So every time I'm in the gym, I always get up extra shots. I think it's helped. I'm more confident, and a lot of it has to do with extra shooting. I'm still getting to the basket, but if I get the outside shot, I take it. I'm getting more opportunities. Teams are giving it to me. I've worked on it and it pays off."
Marc J. Spears can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; Frank Dell'Apa can be reached at email@example.com.
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