Under normal circumstances, the defending champs would be a brick wall stopping the surge by young and overconfident challengers.
Fortunately for Chicago Bulls, the wall that is the Boston Celtics is cracked and crumbling thanks to some timely (or untimely, depending on who you’re rooting for) injuries on the Celtics’ front line.
Last year’s Defensive Player of the Year and team motor Kevin Garnett is out, possibly for the playoffs. One of the role players Doc Rivers was depending on to at least partially fill the gaping void, Leon Powe, is also out of commission thanks to a torn ACL.
That leaves an incomplete frontcourt-by-committee made up of Kendrick Perkins, Glen “Big Baby” Davis (“this generation’s Kevin Duckworth” according to Nick) and Mikki Moore.
Chicago has its own weaknesses, including a lack of consistent interior scoring, youthful decision-making and first-year coaching by Vinny Del Negro.
As positive as Del Negro’s mentoring has been for the young Bulls, his inexperience possibly cost the Bulls Game Two and a 2-0 series lead (memo to Vinny: if Ray Allen has already burned you for 25 points in the half, do not let him catch the ball in a game-winning situation. Cheat off of Davis or Perkins, play a zone to collapse on him, mug him…something, but it’s nothing short of pure idiocy to give a guy any shot whatsoever when he’s that talented and on fire at the same time).
All of this has led us to far and away the most entertaining series of the 2009 NBA Playoffs thus far. To enrich the experience even further, my buddy Nick and I will be dropping in our thoughts live during the game. In so doing we will probably put words and a voice to the emotional machine-gun of thoughts you’ll have throughout the game. Feel free to agree, disagree, or just spill your own sports savvy along the way…
Nick (your source for blunt and undiluted honesty) had his own ruminations before the game:
Will the real Paul Pierce please stand up? 23 and 18 in the points category in the first two games along with eight turnovers. These are pedestrian numbers. This guy claimed to be the best in the world? Seriously?
Though Brad Miller has provided a nice spark off the bench, am I the only on who cringes when the pumpkin is fed to him. The moment he gets the ball, I expect the worst.
I used to like this guy. Maybe it’s the fact that he eats up TT's minutes (which is enraging), or maybe I’m just so enveloped by the talent of the fountain of youth on this team that I can’t see his veteran poise.
He's also one of the countless players in this league that never smiles. Maybe he’s secretly auditioning for a role in the next Scorsese film.
Refresh to get the latest up-to-date comments on Game Three of the Bulls/Celtics. Tipoff is 5:00pm Pacific Time.
Nick: It's a red-out.
Too true...even the last time the Bulls made the playoffs there wasn't any real hope they'd go anywhere. This year, no one knows, and that's why fans are excited.
Rondo picks up the loose ball, Celtics up 4-1. Whichever team gets to the loose balls is going to win this game.
Tyrus Thomas slam. Countered by Davis' short jumper. C's up three. Boston is savvy enough to not let big plays on Chicago's court depress them.
Nick: A lineup with Ben Gordon gets a 24-second shot-clock violation?
8:55 - Celtics up 11-7.
Pierce is tied with the Bulls with seven points. If he's hot and Allen still has his shot, it's going to be hard for Chicago to get any of the momentum they're looking for at home.
Salmons nails the three, Big Baby misses the jumper. Chicago will take that all night long.
Noah dives for the save (Nick: Photographers should wear helmets.)
Nick: If you could shave someone on Chicago's facial hair, would it be Noah or Salmons' hideous beard?
7:23 - Celtics up 17-10. Boston looks like they're in a comfort zone...not what we expected in Chicago's first home game of the series.
Slick pass from Noah to Salmons, Bulls within five with six minutes left. Pierce responds with his fourth consecutive make.
5:37 - Make it five. Bulls up nine. Pierce with 11 points on five-of-five shooting? YOU CAN'T HANDLE THE TRUTH! Timeout Chicago.
Bulls with five turnovers already. Wasting the home crowd's energy.
Nick: Derrick Rose's passes are getting picked off more than Jake Delhomme's in last year's playoffs.
Rose and-one (Nick: finally!) pulls Chicago back within seven and gets Pierce his second foul. Momentum starter?
3:26 - Apparently not, as Rondo gets a layup and then an assist to Allen. Lead back to 11.
Another Chicago turnover, this time courtesy of Hinrich. Allen misses the punch-in-the-gut three, though, and the fans breathe a sigh of relief. Timeout Chicago.
2:53 left, 27-17 Celtics.
Allen's jumper is officially off. Chicago can have hope.
Rondo picks up a flagrant after bringing down Noah in midair. Doc Rivers is irate, no doubt thinking that was labeled a "hard foul" when he played with the Knicks.
House comes in for the ice-cold Allen. Nick refers to Chicago as "we," inadvertantly giving away who he (and the rest of Underdog America) wants to win.
Chicago needs to make a free throw. Brad Miller goes one-for-two, bulls down 27-21.
Davis misses another jumper, and Chicago promptly turns it over (nine in the fist quarter) in their own backcourt.
Rondo with the clutch three with the shot clock expiring.
End of first, Boston up 32-21.
The Bulls aren't playing young-and-upcoming; they're playing young and inexperienced. Turnovers and a lack of free-throw fundamentals are killing them, and a Allen-less Celtics' team is still more than enough for Chicago in this mode.
Hinrich hits a jumper. Maybe his token Team USA experience will come in handy...
Two more turnovers for Chicago; that makes eleven. Rose is in for Gordon (0-for-4).
Hinrich hits the three. If he can keep them close and Rose can go into Game One mode, they should get right back into this thing.
Right on cue, Rose takes it hard to the rack and gets fouled. Bad foul shooting appears contagious though; Rose goes one-for-two, Chicago down seven.
8:27 - Rondo sticks another J on Chicago. He's hit at least three now when Boston's offense looked dead. Nick: I take back anything I said about Rondo being a bad shooter. Timeout Chicago.
Nick on the Sprite Exploding Persons Commercial: You know what I've never understand about this commercial? Why would anyone want to collide in midair and disintegrate? There's gonna be no one left at the end of the commercial. "Uh, I'm thirsty, and I want to explode into water." I don't get it.
Thomas pulls down his seventh rebound, Noah gets an offensive board and makes the putback. Bulls within seven. Suddenly the crowd is relevant again.
Chicago went for the "we'll play great defense on Pierce until the last possible second" strategy before inexplicably leaving him and than fouling him when they realized the strategy worked. Fans protest by shouting "Paul Pierce sucks." Nick: Classy.
Pierce responds with a three on the next offensive position. Yeah, he sucks.
Rondo with a sick no-look pass to Davis for the bunny. C's up 12. Nick: That was Nashty. Was it not? Timeout Chicago.
5:31 - Salmons goes one-for-two; the Bulls are nine-for-17 from the free-throw line. They will lose this game hands down if they keep this up.
Turnover by Salmons. Davis forces up a shot in traffic, making the miscue an irritation instead of a wound.
Rose's block on Rondo is whistled a foul. Three years appears to be the minimum to qualify for help from the zebras.
Gordon finally makes one, Bulls down 13 with 3:17 left in the half.
Rondo is controlling the tempo and putting his imprint on this game. I can't say the same for Rose yet, which has to happen for Chicago to win. If it's not Rose, it's Gordon, who's too streaky to count on for the whole game.
Nick is looking smug after Salmons crams down a slam on the reverse; alright, he called it. Rondo went out with his third foul about thirty seconds ago. 2:25 left, Bulls down 48-36.
Did they seriously let Glen Davis steal it and then go coast-to-coast for the dunk? Wow. The lack of sharpness and effort by Chicago right now is appalling. Nick: I'm dumbfounded, to say the least, that it was "Big Baby" and not Rondo.
Chicago keeps missing free throws; down 13 with under two minutes left in the half.
Starbury for three? If there's an omen for where this game is going, that was it.
Offensive rebound, Starbury to Allen for the emotionless three. Bulls down 19. I'm telling you, it started with Rondo creating the competitive edge. It trickles down. It's contagious. And that's why Chicago doesn't have it, because Rose isn't doing that for them.
I feel like I'm watching the North-Midwest NBA in the late '90s: Marbury dishing, Allen hitting from everywhere, nostalgia in green Celtics uniforms.
Halftime: Boston 59, Chicago 37
Halftime Thoughts: I'm shocked, flamboozled, disappointed, whatever negative and confusing adjective you want to throw in there. Three of Chicago's starting lineup could still be in college, so I figured they would respond like a college team in front of their home crowd. Maybe they did, if this year's Michigan State/North Carolina championship game in Detroit was any indication.
Instead, the Bulls have coughed up the ball more often than my brother coughs up his insides during his yearly bout with bronchitis. Pierce and Rondo set the tone until the real Ray Allen showed up late in the second quarter. Can Chicago make up 22 points in a half? Only if Gordon goes off as only he can.
Big Baby just beat Tyrus Thomas down the floor, earning the foul and the trip to the free-throw line. That should never, I repeat never, happen.
Rose with the drive and the bucket. That needs to happen much more often and consistently, for him and the team.
Gordon gets fouled and goes to the line. Nick: Isn't it funny how the ref hears the fall, and blows the whistle?
Rondo goes coast-to-coast after a made free throw for the uncontested layup. Nick: Unbelievable. Did you just see that? Great defense. (After the slow-motion replay, Nick elaborates: You know, it'd be OK to play a little defense. I know offense is fun, but still...)
Three minutes into the third, Pierce hits the clutch three. Boston up 25 a minute after Nick pleads for Chicago to pull within at least 15. The Truth has 23 points.
Thomas gets the offensive foul and then a quick "T." Nick isn't bothered by that nearly as much as Ben Gordon hesitating to shoot off Thomas' moving screen: Have you ever seen Ben Gordon hesitate on a shot? Unfathomable. Bulls down 26 with eight minutes left.
Perkins gets the offensive board over three white jerseys, earning a trip to the line and a chance to teach Chicago how to make free throws.
Gordon makes a three and then a fast break layup.
6:55 left, Bulls within twenty, and the crowd responds. Boston fans and coaches are praying Gordon doesn't explode right now, twenty-point lead be damned.
Gordon just misses another three, and after two unfruitful back-and-forth possessions, Boston calls time to calm the tempo.
C's still up 20 with 6:03 left.
Allen hits another triple after Rose has a very rookie-like possession on the other end (drove into traffic and lost the ball). Nick: Rose needs a little water, don't you think? Wilting.
Pierce hits another triple, C's up 76-50 with four minutes and change left. Tim Thomas, in for any kind of offense, gets blocked on a jump shot.
Thomas with another turnover. The 2006 playoffs seem like a long time ago...(Nick: Get him outta there!)
Going back to the red-clad crowd...for such a loud color, it is a quiet building right now...
2:54 left in the third, Celtics 78, Bulls 52. Rondo picks up his fourth. TV timeout.
Nick: I just feel like if they can get it under 20, there's a slight chance...right on cue, Marbury hits a jumper for Boston, pushing the lead back to 26.
Davis gets the offensive putback and-one; he's got 11 points, seven rebounds and five assists. That's not how good he is, that's how bad Chicago's been tonight.
End Third Quarter: Celtics 83, Bulls 58.
After rewinding via T-Vo to quadruple check, a fan definitely told Big Baby Davis at the free-throw line, "Bulls are gonna eat you for breakfast, Davis!" 1) That's a big meal and 2) that's a desperate fan of a losing team looking for some attention.
Marbury cuts back-door for the easy layup. If Marbury becomes a factor long-term in the playoffs, he can thank Chicago for this Game Three jump-start.
The crazy female fan is the only interesting thing at this point. Nick and I are tempted to keep rewinding to decipher what she's shouting whenever a Celtic shoots free throws. In the meantime, Allen gets a layup, pushing the lead to a 91-62 advantage.
Crazy Fan tells Mikki Moore, "Get a haircut!" She could care less—her team is suffering a 30-piecing. I love it.
Big Baby reportedly has six steals as well. Is it his birthday? Did Kevin Garnett surgically transfer his game? Are the X-Men: Origins commercials possessing him?
8:30 left, Boston 94, Chicago 62.
Crazy Fan is still at it even though Aaron Gray has just come in for Chicago. That's dedication, people. That's why I'm still a Suns fan despite all the heartbreak. We're a dying breed.
Ben Gordon is still in, though...just in case.
Nick and I inexplicably missed the fact that Marbury now has two strategically placed band-aids around his right eye. Five years ago everyone on ESPN would've reported it by now
Tyrus Thomas hits a jumper. Maybe that was the missing link for relevancy tonight. C's down 31 after a House three.
Scalabrine hits a three. Insignificant in this game, but important assuming Boston advances. He's the only one of Boston's bigs that can hit a jumper consistently, which will be important if Allen goes cold again.
Nick: The Most Interesting Man in the World becomes less and less interesting every time I see this commercial...(10 seconds later)...This guy (Allstate guy) gets more interesting every time I see him.
Dallas is also in the process of doling out a 30-piecing, leaving the only hope of competitive basketball up to the Lakers/Jazz Game 3 tonight—the NBA, where blow-outs happen.
Timeout with 2:40 left, Boston up 29. Nick wonders why (not the lead, the timeout).
I wonder if the Coors Light commercials really sell here in Arizona; I wouldn't be surprised with the contrast of Rocky-Mountain-cold beer in hot environments...
Eddie House hits a three, Bulls up 107-83 with a minute left...rub it in, Eddie, rub it in.
FINAL SCORE: Boston, 107, Chicago 86
We have a Lindsay Hunter sighting.