After seven overtime periods (the most in NBA playoff history), five games decided by a total of 11 points, 106 total lead changes (which includes the Game Three Boston blowout which had zero lead changes), it is only fitting that the greatest first-round series in playoff history comes down to a Game Seven.
The stakes may not be high enough to warrant calling this the greatest postseason series of all time, but don’t tell that to the 20 players who saw playing time in Thursday night’s triple-overtime epic.
"Every game I've been saying this is the best game I've ever played in,'' said the Bulls' John Salmons, who scored a team-high 35 points and was on the court longer (59:56 of the 63 total minutes) than anyone else.
It is also fitting that Game Six ended with Derrick Rose blocking Rajon Rondo’s game-winning attempt from just inside the paint.
Both players have been focal points the entire series.
Rose, the NBA Rookie of the Year and unanimous All-Rookie Team selection, has had a coming-out party.
The Chicago point man tied Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s record for points by a rookie in his first career playoff game with 36 in a 105-103 overtime win in Game One.
Chicago’s three wins have all come in overtime.
Game One went one extra period.
Game Four went to double-overtime.
Game Six was the triple-overtime thriller.
If Game Seven goes to quadruple overtime…bet the house on Chicago.
Rose has looked like a rookie at times but has played like a 10-time all-star more often than not. His leadership has been the catalyst for Chicago’s success in this series, and he has shown no signs of trepidation in the face of monumental pressure.
Even when things don’t go right for Rose, like missing two free throws in the waning seconds of Game Six, they seem to be working out for the best. Boston had no timeouts after Rose’s second miss, so it was forced to try and drive the length of the court in three seconds and heave up a desperation attempt.
Rose is averaging 20 points, 7.2 assists and 6.5 rebounds per game, not bad for a rookie guard trying to take down the defending champions.
"It's crazy, but you got to love it,” Rose quipped after the Game Six win.
Rose has shored up a position that has been in question since the days of Jordan. And while his rise to recognition is the stuff of legends, he has been aided by Pippen-like efforts from Ben Gordon.
Gordon has proven to be the perfect sidekick tp Rose, averaging the quietest 22.8 points, 2.8 assists and 2.8 rebounds per game you will never hear of. In the Game Two loss, he had 42 points.
Gordon has had his two highest-scoring games in two of Rose’s three lowest scoring outputs. When Rose has looked like a rookie, Gordon has taken control, despite playing on only one good hamstring.
Then there’s Rodman…er…I mean, Noah.
In Game Six, Joakim Noah made the biggest play…well, series of four plays, really…when he (1) stole the ball from Paul Pierce, (2) drove the length of the floor for a dunk, (3) drew the foul on Pierce which was Pierce's sixth, and (4) hit the free throw that put the Bulls up for good.
"Unbelievable,'' said Noah, who led all players with 15 rebounds. "I feel blessed to be a part of it. This is some special stuff.''
Noah, who was considered a bust earlier in the season, will be a figure in Chicago sports lore for a long time if the Bulls are able to bury the Celtics in Boston on Saturday.
"This series is a lot of fun for the fans, the people of Chicago, the people of Boston," said Noah. "It's a lot of fun for us, too, playing in environments like this on the big stage. It's special to be part of this, and I know that it's a series people will be talking about for a long time."
A long time is a modest statement.
If this young group of Bulls lives up to its potential, another dynasty could be on the horizon. If so, people will look back on this series as the turning point.
Chicago has a chance on Saturday to make a statement, that Rose, Gordon and Noah are ready to pick up where Jordan, Pippen and Rodman left off.
As for Boston, especially Ray Allen, the team has to be wondering what has gone wrong.
"So far, it's one of the best series I've ever been a part of,'' said Allen.
Allen’s 51 points in Game Six are a series high and a personal playoff high. He tied a postseason record with nine three-pointers. Allen is the first Celtic to break 50 points in a postseason game since John Havlicek set a franchise record with 54 points in 1973.
While Allen has continued to build on his legacy, the Celtics' best player has been Rajon Rondo.
Rondo, who bloodied Brad Miller and threw Kirk Hinrich into the announcer's table, has been nothing short of remarkable.
Rondo is on the verge of becoming the sixth player in NBA history to average a triple-double for a postseason series; he would join Jason Kidd, Oscar Robertson, Magic Johnson, Wilt Chamberlain and Fat Lever.
Ravishing Rajon has been close on three different occasions in this series to becoming the fourth player in NBA history to record 15 points, 15 rebounds, and 15 assists in a single postseason game.
For the series Rondo is averaging 21.5 points, 12.5 assists and 10 rebounds per game. The primary focus of Game Seven will obviously be who advances, but this is an exciting side story that is worth keeping an eye on.
Paul Pierce, who had 22 points in Game Six, summed up the series better than anyone on Thursday night: "I really don't know what to say about this series, this has been a phenomenal series."
The worst thing about this series is that it has to end.
The only way this series can be a disappointment is if Saturday’s Game Seven is decided by more than a bucket. Overtime seems fitting, doesn’t it?
Boston’s age is starting to show, and while there are whispers of a Garnett return in Game Seven, there is far too much to risk by putting him in with three years and $60 million left on his contract.
It will be interesting to see how many more minutes Doc Rivers can squeeze out of his bench.
Stephon Marbury? Game Seven MVP?
Chicago is a young franchise with all the right pieces in place. Although a run to the finals may be unlikely this season, there’s a fella in Cleveland who seems to be steamrolling toward that. This is a chance for Chicago to make a leap into the Eastern Conference elite.
No matter who wins this game, both teams should receive a standing ovation from the Boston faithful.
In other words, to both Chicago and Boston, thank you for a great series, thank you for some great memories, and thank you for the memories that Saturday is sure to provide.
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