Boston 109, Chicago 99 (Boston wins series 4-3)
Offensive Ratings: Boston 119.3, Chicago 102.3
So after seven games, seven overtimes and 371 minutes, the series that has inspired us to ponder the greatest playoff matchups in NBA history came to an end Saturday with a Game Seven whose 10-point final margin felt like a blowout. While the Chicago Bulls got within five points on three occasions during the final two minutes, it always felt like the Boston Celtics were in control--even if there was the nagging suspicion that this game was somehow bound for the extra session.
Chicago hardly seemed intimidated by the weight of Game Seven or the hostile crowd, coming out hot behind Ben Gordon to lead throughout the first quarter. The Bulls led by seven when Tyrus Thomas knocked down a long jumper with precisely eight minutes left in the first half. It would be the last basket Chicago would score before halftime. The 22-2 Celtics run forced the Bulls to play from behind the rest of the game, and ultimately proved decisive.
The fourth quarter's flow was disrupted by a series of trips to the free-throw line by both sides. Chicago shot nine free throws in the period, while Boston attempted 14 before the Bulls started fouling in desperation. Not only did officials crack down on contact away from the ball in a game that got testy at times, but Chicago found it very difficult to defend without fouling.
His team trailing by 10 points at the time, Vinny Del Negro went to the small lineup with guards Ben Gordon, Kirk Hinrich and Derrick Rose, and John Salmons at power forward, a lineup whose success I touted in my Game Seven advance. Except for a two-minute rest taken by Rose around the quarter break, this group would play together the rest of the way, Gordon and Salmons playing the entire second half. More so than in previous games, the small unit saw the Bulls trade defense for offense. Chicago scored 60 points in the second half, but surrendered 57. Starting at the three-minute mark, the Bulls scored on four straight possessions, but could not get a stop to cut into the Celtics' lead.
Still, Chicago had chances to steal this game. The Bulls took possession with 57 seconds left down five, only to see Ben Gordon miss in the paint and Joakim Noah foul trying to corral the offensive rebound. Brad Miller's score made it a five-point game once again with 42 seconds left, but Ray Allen was able to sneak behind the defense for a layup plus the foul. Finally, the Bulls came up with an improbable steal at the 25-second mark and got Ben Gordon a good look at a three that would have cut the lead in half. It missed. This time, overtime was not to be.
Boston won this game in large part because of the performance of its much-maligned, short-handed reserve unit. Eddie House was the night's surprise star, making all five of his shot attempts, four of them from three-point range. Doc Rivers used House to match up with Chicago for the last four and a half minutes of the game, and he responded with a crucial three-pointer and surprisingly competent defense. Brian Scalabrine filled in with Kendrick Perkins in foul trouble (and for matchup purposes), knocking down two long jumpers in the first half that kept the Bulls from pulling away. Mikki Moore even chipped in a couple of buckets during his brief stint, while Stephon Marbury was on the floor to start the Celtics' run in the second quarter.
Boston's bench unit may have to keep it up with a more challenging series against Orlando on tap within 48 hours. What with all the overtimes, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo all logged at least 40 minutes a night during this series. That, however, is a concern for later. For now, the Celtics can enjoy having won one of the most competitive, entertaining NBA series in recent memory.
Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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