Even notwithstanding the Game 3 blowout from Thursday, the Celtics-Bulls series was the odds-on favorite to be the best first round playoff matchup of the 2009 NBA Playoffs. Let’s go ahead and push that to “mortal lock” status, because Game 4, taken by the Bulls, 121-118 in double overtime, was yet another absolute masterpiece.
In terms of the specifics, the heroes were Derrick Rose, who was one dime away from a triple double (23, 11, and 9), and Ray Allen, who hit 5 clutch threes en route to 28 points. But numbers are just, well, numbers, while the drama of the game created the type of theater that reminded fans why we spend so much time watching sports in the first place.
The shifts of power. This can happen on a micro or macro level; in this series, both apply. In Game 4 alone, there were 28 lead changes, 26 of which came in regulation. The end of the game was in doubt all the way until Paul Pierce’s game-tying 3-pointer was blocked as time ran out. There were dramatic threes that forced each of the overtimes, one by Allen at the end of regulation, the other by Ben Gordon at the end of the first OT.
On the macro level, though, there is a symbolic shift here; not only do we see momentum shift from Boston to Chicago as next year’s top challenger to Cleveland’s throne in the East (we can safely assume, of course, that the world belongs to Lebron for the foreseeable future), but the case can be made that the best player on the Celtics isn’t one of the Big 3, but Rajon Rondo, who has been brilliant - on both offense and defense - in all four games as he battles Rose, essentially to a draw.
Supreme displays of athleticism. There is a sheer, unique joy that comes from watching athletes perform at their highest levels, executing under the duress of defense and time. To that end, we have been treated to a pair of assassins, Allen and Gordon, trading clutch shots to save their teams. There were the aforementioned threes that each prolonged play today, but their duel in Game 2 was almost magical (Overstatement? Not if you’d watched it). Esteemed blogger J.E. Skeets of BALL DON’T LIE said he stood up and applauded his television when the game ended. We don’t doubt his sincerity, though we opted for copious amounts of yelling. Speaking of which…
Kevin Garnett screaming Mother F-Bombs from the bench. This, too, is terrifically enjoyable.
(Put another way: the game was so inspired that this picture isn’t even funny. Okay, it is a little bit.)
Exertion to exhaustion. These teams would have played each other until every single player on the court was unable to pick himself up off the court. Think of the iconic Chargers-Dolphins playoff game from 1982, and you get a sense for how inspired this competition has been. This series, and nearly every game in it, has been a titanic battle, one in which it would be tempting to simply declare a tie. It’s going seven games. This is certain. And no matter which team (Boston) ends up advancing to the second round, our hats are off in tribute to such phenomenal play.