On a designed play, Chicago Bulls center Brad Miller received the inbounds pass at the top of the key with three seconds left, and drove into a wide-open lane.
The opening closed quickly, as Boston Celtics center Kendrick Perkins and guard Rajon Rondo challenged Miller.
Perkins hip-checked Miller, while Rondo nailed the center right in the face, bloodying his mouth.
Miller, despite the mugging, still had a tremendous chance to score, but his layup missed everything and bounced harmlessly on the hardwood.
An 85-percent free-throw shooter on the season, Miller, after being tended to on the sideline, stepped to the free-throw line with an opportunity to tie the game. Clearly in pain, he missed the all-important first attempt, meaning the second would have to be purposefully clanged off the rim in order to have another chance to tie.
Miller’s second free-throw missed the rim entirely–which is illegal–so the ball was turned over to Boston. Celtics guard Paul Pierce was fouled immediately and did what Miller could not. He swished the first free-throw and, knowing Chicago didn’t have a timeout left, missed the second, ending the game.
From a Celtics-hater standpoint, Game Five could not have gone any worse. It was devastating. The Bulls played so well, and controlled much of the game. They had the Celtics on their heels, especially after their second-best player, Ray Allen, fouled out trying to contain Ben Gordon on offense with a little more than five minutes left.
Gordon took advantage of Allen’s absence, but couldn’t completely overcome his poor shooting night. He made just six of 21 shots.
Yet, despite missing fifteen shots, many ill-advised, he came alive late. One of those players whose eyes light up when a shot falls, Gordon took matters into his own hands. With three and half minutes left, Gordon drained a heavily convered three-pointer to increase the Bulls' lead to five. He wasn’t done.
Chicago couldn’t convert on multiple opportunities to lengthen the margin. In heavy traffic, point guard Derrick Rose missed a driving layup. Then, after Pierce committed a turnover, Rose gave the ball right back to Boston.
The Celtics scored, and the Bulls responded, but it wasn’t as easy. They missed two attempts before Rose skied for the rebound and ended the drought with a layup. Less that two minutes remained. Chicago held a lead, albeit slim at four points.
The Bulls would need a few defensive stands, a couple baskets on offense, and a victory was theirs for the taking. They could not do this. Boston made consecutive layups and Rose turned the ball over again.
Still, the game was tied at 91. After Rondo’s 10-footer went just eight feet, Chicago was in possession. Who do the Bulls go to with a chance to go ahead in the final seconds? Gordon.
With nowhere to go, blanketed by defensive-specialist Tony Allen, Gordon did what he’s paid millions upon millions to do—shoot. It appeared he only had a sliver of daylight, but that’s all a player of his caliber needed. He, incomprehensibly, canned the jumper.
The crowd went silent, but they weren’t for long.
The Celtics had 16 seconds. Pierce had time. Isolated at the top guarded by Salmons, Pierce quickly made his move with thirteen seconds left in regulation, calmly draining a 17-footer.
Gordon had time as well, but couldn’t convert, missing a contested jumper he usually hits in his sleep. For the third time in five games, the Celtics and Bulls were headed to overtime. Knowing that the Celtics were at home and had more playoff experience, I thought this would have been the Bulls' final chance to pull out Game Five.
Boston grabbed a three-point on a layup by Rondo. Gordon, who played all but two minutes in the game, responded, aggressively taking the initiative. He scored four points in between two free-throws by Rondo before Rose came out of hibernation with a strong drive to take a one-point lead.
Again, their momentum wouldn’t last. Chicago’s defensive strategy backfired. They continued to guard Pierce with single coverage. It was John Salmons job, and his alone, to contain Pierce. He couldn’t do it. Pierce had him off balance, and clearly nervous.
Effortlessly, Pierce nailed his bread-and-butter. It was too easy. So easy, in fact, that he did the same thing on the exact play. Suddenly, the Celtics' lead was three points.
The Bulls defense couldn’t get a stop on defense, so Gordon did his best to combat these struggles. The hamstring wasn’t a problem. He was in a zone. In his cocky and confident mind, either he would lead the Bulls, or no one would.
Again, with nowhere to go–clearly his favorite situation–he took the contact from Tony Allen in the midst of hoisting a potential game-tying three pointer with twenty-seven seconds remaining.
Replays showed that he may have toed the sideline, but it was not called. Instead, a foul was. He made all three free-throws, tying the game, and silencing the crowd.
Once more, too much time remained. Pierce had time, again. He capitalized, torturing Salmons again to hit another mid-range jumper. This set up the sad finish. The demoralizing end to another Bulls-Celtics classic.