What. An. Epic. There were enough plot twists and peaks and valleys, Brad Miller chest-thumps and Rajon Rondo Hinrich-slaps, Ray Allen "Did he really just do that?" swishes and Tony Allen "Did he really just do that?" mishaps in 63 minutes last night to fill the highlight (or lowlight) reel of an entire seven-game series.
Naturally, in a 128-127 triple-overtime marathon/heavyweight bout, there were more than a few memorable individual performances. Let's flash back to a few . . .
Ray Allen: He might be the only player ever to score 51 points while sometimes becoming an afterthought in his team's offense along the way. My biggest frustration from last night's game -- other than every time Tony Allen arrived at the scorer's table -- was that the Celtics didn't make every effort to get Sugar Ray a touch on every single possession. I don't care if three Bulls were draped on him. You know why? He was so hot, so in the zone, that it wouldn't have mattered which Bulls -- or how many -- were guarding him. Yet I don't think he took a shot in the final two minutes of regulation, and it seemed like every time the Celtics got a lead of more than a point or two, they forgot about him. From the fourth quarter on, it felt like every shot he took came in a moment of desperation -- with the Celtics down two, or three, with the game hanging in the balance -- and more often than not, he'd drill it with something straight out of Larry Bird's big-game repertoire. It was the defining performance of Allen's Hall of Fame career, it should forever silence the nitwits who think he still has something to prove here, and yet we're left with one lingering lament: If only his coach and teammates had given him a shot to do just a little bit more.
Joakim Noah: He's a preening, annoying, look-at-me goofball. He shoots like he's playing tetherball with Napoleon Dynamite. High def does him no favors. And man, don't I wish the Celtics had someone just like him. He never stops hustling, never stops clawing for rebounds and bounding into passing lanes, and his world-class athletic genes were on display when he outran Paul Pierce for three quarters of the court for his game-changing dunk. Yes, he's a pest. Yes, he makes a convenient villain. Yes, I'm pretty sure they're flat-out lying when they tell us him mom was a Swedish model. So where can we get one just like him?
Paul Pierce: He just looks tired. Exhausted, actually. The combination of trying chase the spry young Bulls around on defense while having to carry his usual heavy offensive burden on the other end seems to be weighing on No. 34, and it was never more noticeable than a second or two before he made the fatal turnover and foul in the third overtime. Pierce had the ball at the foul line extended, near the 3-point line. To his left, the lane was wide-open. You saw it. He saw it. The situation called for one of his trademark slashing drives, probably with some contact at the end, maybe a layup plus one. He began to make his move . . . and nothing. It was like his legs refused to cooperate. The defense closed in and cutoff the lane, he had no Plan B, and the next thing you know he was making Noah into a temporary folk hero in Chicago. It was a terrible turnover, but it was not an inexcusable one. Even warriors get worn out sometimes.
John Salmons: What more can you say? He out-Pierced Pierce, slashing to the hoop pretty much at will, even with a full hour's worth of playing time. Who knew when it happened that the Bulls' trade of space-shot Drew Gooden and Andres Nocioni to the Kings for Salmons and Brad Miller in February -- which was essentially a Chicago salary dump -- could conceivably play a major role in ending the Celtics' championship reign? (By the way, in that link above, it's noted that the T-Wolves tried to convince the Bulls into trading Kirk Hinrich in another salary dump. How much do you wish that had happened right now?)
Rajon Rondo: As is usually the case, I agreed with tommy Heinsohn: "DRIVE . . . TO . . . THE . . . HOOP, RAY-JON!!!" I always feel like he can get to the hoop pretty much whenever he sets his mind to it, and the Celtics feed off his aggressiveness. I also thought it was on his shoulders as much as Doc's that Ray Allen didn't get enough touches at the end of regulation and during certain stretches in overtime. Rondo has to find a way to get Allen the ball when he's that hot, even if he is being dogged by more than one defender. And his little turnaround over Rose at the end of the third OT was ill-advised at best, though it was more a sensational defensive play than anything else. That said, I don't get some of the venom for Rondo at the end of the game. When you're griping about a point guard who just played 59 minutes and had a 19-to-0 assist-to-turnover ratio, it might be time to start looking for something else to complain about. (Might I suggest Tony Allen? Did I already?)
Brad Miller: You know, I'm beginning to think Heinsohn doesn't much like him. But you have to give the player who annually wins the vote for Most Likely To Own His Own Trailer Park a lot of credit for his redemptive performance last night. He attempted 14 shots total, from the field and the free-throw line. He made 13. You can't be much better than that. Like Noah, you loathe him as a foe, and Heinsohn is right -- he's a dirty, cheap-shotting rat in the McFilthy and McNasty mold. But as he's teeing up one of those Laimbeerish jump shots, you can't help but think, "Man, the Celtics could use someone like this." Swish.
Tony Allen: I suppose I've already revealed my feelings about his performance, but in case I wasn't pointed enough: He has the worst instincts of any athlete I have ever seen wear a Boston uniform in any sport, and there is no exaggeration in that statement whatsoever. Watching him play basketball in a meaningful situation is the equivalent of watching Tebucky Jones trying to make an open-field tackle after running in circles around an upright baseball bat for 20 minutes. I don't care how depleted the Celtics' bench is. I don't care that Big Baby needs a breather now and then and the nickname Starbury is just a cruel joke at this point. Tony Allen should not be allowed on the court -- let alone permitted to touch, or heaven forbid, shoot the basketball -- under any circumstances when the game's outcome still hangs in the balance. I cannot put it any clearer than that, Doc. Free Bill Walker.
Derrick Rose: His acceleration is remarkable -- he goes from zero to 60 in the blink of his defender's eye. His poise is almost unbelievable given that he was the starting point guard for the Wolverines of Simeon High just two years ago. While he seemed to disappear for extended stretches last night, he still finished with 28 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists, and 1 game-saving -- perhaps season-saving -- block. A lot of the Bulls annoy me. Rose? He awes me. Lucky Chicago, hitting that Transcendent Player jackpot twice in 25 years.
Kevin Garnett: I know they're saying he won't play. And maybe he won't. Probably he won't. But he'd damned well better be in uniform for this game. The Celtics, those noble but weary and wobbling champions, need every advantage, every emotional and psychological edge, that they can possibly muster in Game 7. You're telling me the sight of a scowling Garnett -- trotting, jogging, limping, whatever -- out for warmups wouldn't get the Garden rocking like it hasn't since last June? Just the notion that one of the most intimidating players in recent history could enter the game at any moment should be enough to plant some sort of doubt in the youthful Bulls' heads. KG needs to dress for this game. He has to. And if there is still any doubt whether it's the right thing to do, let me ask you a question that I suspect Danny Ainge asks himself from time to time when he has important decisions to make: What would Red do? I think you know the answer.
As for today's Completely Random Basketball Card:
Perhaps the most impressive element of his 23-point performance last night was that he had a second wind when so many of his teammates looked like their legs were shot. Never thought I'd see the day he'd become so dependable, let alone well-conditioned, and I could not have been more wrong about him earlier this season. In a related note: How much of a difference would Leon Powe make right now?
About Touching All The Bases
Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.