Short and sweet
No OT needed as Celtics survive Bulls in Game 7
No overtime. No problem. The most closely contested and longest playoff series in NBA history concluded last night, the Celtics taking a 109-99 victory over Chicago at TD Banknorth Garden.
Four games in the first-round series extended past 48 minutes, seven overtime sessions in all. The Celtics' ability to close things out relatively quickly in Game 7 brought the series to an anticlimactic conclusion.
Though the 10-point margin was a comparative blowout (five games were decided by 3 points or less), this one was not wrapped up until the final minute. The Celtics did not have to work overtime, but they also didn't bury the Bulls despite gaining control with a 22-2 run late in the first half.
The Celtics' resiliency will be back on display tomorrow night at 8 when they host Orlando in their second-round series opener.
"Definitely, we were a confident group going into Game 7," Celtics cap tain Paul Pierce said. "I didn't think we were going to be rattled, or nervous about it. We were comfortable coming into our building for a Game 7. The experience had to help us."
The Celtics were indeed confident. During the game, the coaches placed scouting reports on the Magic in the players' cars.
The Celtics put this one away by going strong to the basket in the final quarter, getting key Bulls into foul trouble and qualifying for the bonus 3:40 into the fourth. The Bulls were within 5 in the final minute, but Pierce converted two foul shots and Ray Allen made a 3-point play to keep the margin comfortable.
"We really didn't expect them to play the way they did through the whole seven games," Pierce said. "We expected them to play hard but they really pushed us to the limit. It was a great, great series. Thank goodness, we were battle-tested and we had experience in seventh games."
The key to the Celtics' revival in the second quarter was the bench contribution, helping to turn a 9-point deficit into a 52-39 halftime lead. Eddie House provided not only 3-pointers (4 for 4, 16 points) but effective defense against Ben Gordon (33 points).
House's hounding paid off in the final minute of play as he stopped a Gordon drive, Pierce rebounding and drawing Joakim Noah's sixth foul. Pierce's free throws stretched the lead to 102-95 with 46.8 seconds left. Allen then beat the press, catching a long House outlet, for a layup and 3-point play, a foul that disqualified Bulls center Brad Miller. That sequence gave Boston an 8-point lead with 36.6 seconds to go.
"In a series that our bench hadn't really given us much, they were phenomenal," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said.
The Celtics led by as many as 12 points late in the third quarter, but Chicago didn't quit. Kirk Hinrich scored the Bulls' first 6 points of the fourth quarter, cutting the deficit to 81-77. House then hit a second-chance 3-pointer, but was assessed a technical foul for taunting. The Bulls committed their fifth foul of the quarter with 8:20 remaining, Pierce's free throw making it 85-78.
With Allen waiting at the scorer's table, Kendrick Perkins's hook shot made the score 89-81. John Salmons scored underneath, and during a break in play the Bulls were awarded an extra point because of a scoring correction from the first half (a Gordon 3-pointer had been scored a 2). Two Celtic fouls in a five-second span led to two Gordon free throws, pulling the Bulls within 89-86 with 5:39 left.
House reentered as Perkins went to the line for a 93-86 lead with 2:53 to play, and his 3-pointer 23 seconds later made it 96-88. Hinrich's three cut the deficit to 98-93 with 1:42 remaining.
The Celtics' second-quarter run was decisive.
Gordon had stretched the Chicago lead to 32-23 58 seconds into the quarter. But the Celtics' reserves started making a difference. Brian Scalabrine converted a 3-pointer and House fed Glen Davis for a pick-and-roll layup. The Celtics increased their defensive intensity, holding the Bulls without a field goal for the final 8:01 of the half.
Perkins's pick-and-roll score ignited a 22-2 run over the last 7:40 of the half. House hit two threes during the rally, including one after stripping Gordon following a Chicago timeout, providing a 39-36 edge with 5:11 left. The Celtics would not relinquish that lead, with reserves Stephon Marbury and Mikki Moore contributing to a strong close to the half.
"We turned into the Celtics again," Rivers said of the surge. "Really. We started playing defense, getting stops. We talked about before the game, multiple stops equals multiple scores. We did it in stretches in during this series, but never for a game, except for Game 3 [a 107-86 win]. When we got the stops we could run. We really felt if we got stops and rebounded, we could be the transition team, and I thought we were.
"They got off to a great start and I thought that was important for them, being young. And we weathered their storm and hung in there. Finally, in the second quarter, we made a run."
The Bulls went 1 for 12 from the field and 2 for 6 from the foul line after Tyrus Thomas's 20-footer gave them a 36-30 advantage.
"The Bulls were phenomenal," Rivers said, "and the coaches did expect them to be very good."
Frank Dell'Apa can be reached at email@example.com.