On Friday night, Boston entertained the Chicago Bulls at the TD Garden, in a game which pitted players of a very similar style against each other. Rajon Rondo and Derrick Rose are two of the most exciting young point guards in the league, both with experience and composure beyond their years. Both love a steal, a fast break, an assist and a lay up after fooling the defender. Both made their debut appearances at the All Star game this year, and will go on to be the leading point guards of the next decade.
Small forwards Paul Pierce and Luol Deng take the onus upon themselves to get the job done, firing up shot after shot, even if the previous few didn't fall. If the game goes to the last shot, invariably it'll be these two who bear the responsibility for their respective teams.
A fast start to the third quarter saw the Celtics up by 16 points, and apparently cruising. But, as happened on countless occasions last season, the lead slipped. For one reason or another, maintaining the level of consistency just doesn't carry over from first half to second, and by the end of the third, Boston found themselves up just eight points, at 72-64.
Still in control, you might think. Well, yes, to an extent. But last season's frailties weren't exclusive to the third quarter. And as Chicago found baskets with increasing regularity, the home crowd feared yet another crumble from a rock solid position. That tension spread to the players. Shots were rushed, plays weren't properly executed, and that famous Celtic defence resembled that of Golden State or Phoenix, teams who don't believe defence matters, as long as their own shots drop.
With five minutes and 44 seconds left in the fourth, Bulls impact player CJ Watson connected with a three to put them up 82-81. This was swiftly followed by jump shot from Joakim Noah. He may possess the worst-looking and technically most dreadful jump shot in the league, but it invariably finds only net.
So, down by three, and with everyone in the building wearing green getting more and more frustrated, it was as though the Celtics had finally been given the jolt they needed. The instigator? Who else but the six-foot one-inch, 24-year-old number nine. In accordance with the standard commentators curse ruling, following my rave about him prior to the game, Rajon Rondo had had, up to that point, a relatively quiet game.
As often is the case, Paul Pierce controlled the ball as the game entered its final stretch. But, uncharacteristically, the Boston captain was stripped of the ball, and Rose fed Deng for another three, tying up the game as it entered the last minute.
As the clock wound down, both sides missed jump shots, before Rondo turned the ball over with 23 seconds left, handing the ball to Chicago for potentially the final play of the game. But Rondo redeemed himself, proving why he's already been named to two NBA all-defence teams by hassling Rose into losing the ball as attempted to put up his shot. "That was great defence by Rondo," ESPN microphones caught coach Doc Rivers shouting.
For the second game in a row, a highly dramatic Celtics game entered overtime.
The first three shots all found net, Chicago's basket sandwiched between two of Boston's. Kyle Korver then stepped up to connect with a three for the Bulls, handing them the lead. A change in momentum? No. Ray Allen answered straight back. The man who currently sits second on the all-time list of three-point shots made, and who will retire as the greatest pure shooter of all time, immediately fired from down town, putting the Celtics back up two.
A couple of Rose free throws tied it up again, before Rondo found Pierce unguarded at the hoop for a lay up. "How about the vision of Rondo, what a big time pass," came Van Gundy again. Rondo then again hustled Rose with his fourth steal of the game, turning defence into attack. He found Glen Davis, who was fouled, sending him to the line. He made one of the two free throws, before the TD Garden erupted.
While known for his three-pointers, Allen is rather less known for his thundrous dunks. Pierce found him cutting to the hoop, and he finished with authority, putting the Cs up by five with a minute left.
For the second game in a row, Boston had squandered a winning position and gone to overtime. But in contrast to last season, found the character to stand up and win the game again, instead of being over taken.
The Celtics extend their impressive start to the season, moving to 5-1, while the Bulls drop to 2-3. The Cs are next out on Sunday night at Oklahoma City Thunder, the youngest, and most rapidly improving, team in the league. The Bulls face a strong test at home to the Denver Nuggets on Monday night.