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In Game 7 of one of the greatest NBA playoff series of all time, the Celtics and Bulls resembled two fighters in the 15th round of a title bout. The players’ arms dragged at their sides, their movements grew sluggish, and free throws (at least for the Celtics) stopped falling. With the Celtics starters running out of gas, Doc Rivers called on his bench once again, and they finally delivered.
Brian Scalabrine hit two threes for eight points in 25 minutes and Eddie House went 4-4 from beyond the arc to finish with 14 points in 22 minutes to help rejuvinate the Celtics in a 109-99 win. Paul Pierce led the C’s with 23 points and Ray Allen added 20 to send the Celtics to Round 2.
The key stretch of the game came in the second quarter with the Bulls leading the Celtics 37-30. The C’s then went on a 22-2 run to close out the half. The Bulls turned it over seven times over the final eight minutes of the period, and Eddie House collected three steals in the process.
In the fourth quarter, the Bulls closed the lead to three thanks to a bizarre decision by league officials. With 5:44 left in regulation, Ben Gordon (33 points) was awarded an extra point for a three-pointer he took in the first half (he was originally awarded only two for the obvious three-point shot). Kirk Hinrich also helped, scoring 14 of his 16 points in the final frame.
To close out the game, the Celtics hit their final 11 free throws after a rough start from the line. Overall, the team finished 30-39 (76.9%). On the other side of the ball, the Bulls finished 32-36 (88.9%) from the FT line, led by Ben Gordon’s 15-15.
Rajon Rondo, who nearly averaged a triple double for the series, showed the most fatigue of all. He managed to play 38 minutes, but finished just 2-8 from the floor and 3-6 from the line while scoring seven points. He added 11 assists, five rebounds, three steals, and two blocks. When Rondo was tired, Stephon Marbury (2 points) came up big because he kept the tempo up and made few mistakes.
Throughout the series, the referees made many strange calls, and two in particular come to mind in Game 7. In the fourth quarter, Eddie House hit a huge three pointer right in front of the Bulls bench. During the shot, the Bulls were screaming right behind him, and House turned around to taunt and was called for the technical. The Bulls’ bench, if anyone, should’ve been penalized.
Later in the quarter, Brad Miller fouled Kendrick Perkins and swiped at his shoulder after the whistle was blown. Perk clutched his shoulder in pain and didn’t really do anything, but both players were called for technical fouls, which is totally riduclous (if anything, no one should’ve received a technical). After the game, Donny Marshall mentioned that Perk should protest the call to the league, because players pay a fine for every techinal foul they commit.
SoB’s Geoff can finally stop complaining about the bench! The Celtics really needed them to step up, and in the end, the more productive bench won. Except for Hinrich’s absurd fourth quarter, the Celtics bench provided way more energy, and finally started scoring. House, Scal, Mikki Moore, and Marbury combined for 30 points.
The Celtics get just one day of rest, and will meet the Orlando Magic Monday night for Game 1 of their second round series. The Magic are a finnesse team, so you can expect the Celtics to be less battered. Besides Dwight Howard, Orlando isn’t very big, which means a much better matchup for the Celtics, who are smaller after injuries to Kevin Garnett and Leon Powe.
NOTE: If Perk happens to be out for any time in Round 2 due to a sore shoulder, the Celtics may be in trouble.
Prediction: The Celtics will win the series in six games and will play at least two overtime games.