Celtics vs. Bulls: Next in a series

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / October 30, 2009

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It wasn’t as though Kendrick Perkins asked for the game tape. He didn’t go looking for the boxed set. He didn’t search for highlights on YouTube. He wasn’t trying to relive the magic.

His television set just happened to be on, and the Celtics’ seven-game saga with the Bulls in the opening round of last year’s playoffs was an instant classic.

“I had no choice but to watch it,’’ he said.

The joke after the series was that it should have been a best-of-11 instead of a best-of-seven, and tonight’s matchup is as close to a continuation as basketball fans will get, at least until April.

“That was a great series, obviously,’’ said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. “So it’ll be an interesting game. Whenever you play a team in the playoffs, that first game you play them the next year is usually extremely intense.’’

The elements - an out-of-nowhere underdog and a defending champion - were perfect. The drama - game-tying 3-pointers, overtimes in four games, injured stars who may or may not play - was nonstop. The scoring - 1,546 points in the seven games, or 220.9 a night - came at a rate greater than in any of the other series.

Derrick Rose tied Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s record for most points by a rookie in his playoff debut (36), then walked Boylston Street the next day without drawing a gawk. With the Celtics missing Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo nearly averaged a triple-double.

From a spectator’s standpoint, the eyes only added up as the series went on; 5.35 million viewers tuned in for the madness of Chicago’s 128-127 triple-overtime win in Game 6, making it the most-watched first-round game on cable. That mark stood only until Game 7, when 6.99 million tuned in for a series-capper that seemed anticlimactic.

They seemed more like rounds in an Ali-Frazier fight than games in an NBA postseason series, and that’s only entry-level hyperbole. The buzz, be it truth or short memory, was that it was the best ever first-round playoff series and among the best series altogether.

It was mentioned in the same breath as the 1998 Bulls-Jazz Finals, the 1981 Celtics-76ers Eastern Conference finals, and it booted the 2007 first-round Golden State-Dallas matchup (sort of the West Coast’s mirror image of the Celtics-Bulls series) out of the conversation.

At the time, the hype had to be tempered, and Rivers told the Washington Post, “I didn’t see ‘great.’ I saw ‘hard.’ I saw ‘difficult’ . . . but not ‘great.’ ’’

Ray Allen said time has allowed him to view the series in a different way.

“Perspective has grown on me a little bit more, the magnitude of the whole series,’’ he said. “Once you get out of it, it’s like, ‘OK, we’re moving [on] to Orlando,’ but from this vantage point, it was a spectacle for a lot of people that watch NBA basketball and the playoffs, and it’s something people are going to talk about for a while.’’

The stakes won’t be as high. The Bulls (minus Ben Gordon) and the Celtics (plus Rasheed Wallace) won’t be the same teams they were last April. But don’t be surprised if the atmosphere is similar.

With negotiations still open between the two sides, the Celtics will have more time to work out a deal with Rondo than they had originally planned.

The Oct. 31 deadline to extend players in the fourth year of their rookie contracts was pushed back to Monday, said league spokesman Tim Frank. According to the collective bargaining agreement, should the date of the deadline fall on a weekend or holiday, then it would be moved to the next business day.

A memo from the league earlier in the week informed teams of the change.

Julian Benbow can be reached at

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