Sunday, 7 November 2010

Recurring themes.

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.
Then come the men for which the word 'maximum' could easily be their given names. Kevin Garnett and Joakim Noah may go about their business in slightly different ways, but neither has ever given less than 100 per cent. Noah keeps himself to himself, but when it comes to passion, fire, commitment and hard work, very few give more to the cause. One of those few is KG. The Big Ticket has the same values as Noah, but goes about them in a very different way. If a fellow Celtic is brought into the line-up to do a specific job, then falters, Garnett will be in their face, giving them a private yet open dressing down of epic proportions. On court, everything is business, and business must be taken care of.
So to the game. Off the back of a Thursday night home loss to the New York Knicks, the Bulls made an impressive start, ending the first quarter 23-19 up. Then came what the Celtics are known for. Resolute, aggressive, stifling defence. For the first five minutes 56 seconds of the second quarter, the Bulls went scoreless. A combination of forced turnovers, forced tough shots, steals and blocks turned a four-point deficit into a ten-point lead. A 22-3 run had Boston up 41-26, which turned into 49-38 at the break.
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.
Then, in one minute's worth of game play, Rondo bagged his ninth assist, as well as recording two lay ups, which wrestled the lead back Boston's way. High screens were set, opening up the path to the basket for the lightning point guard to run into. "Just too easy for the great Rondo," eulogised ESPN analyser Jeff van Gundy.
A three-point play by Ray Allen preceded another break to the basket by Rondo. His lay up missed, but Paul Pierce was on hand to tip Boston back into a 92-86 lead with three minutes left on the clock. But if the Celtics thought they had broken the back of the Chicago comeback, Luol Deng gave them something else to think about. His three halved the lead, before a quick flurry of exchanged baskets made the score 96-93 Boston.
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.
But the Bulls still weren't done, Deng tipping in to cut it to three. Then when Pierce missed a jumper with 20 seconds left on the clock, the chance was there for Chicago to again tie it up.
Noah, effort personified, took it upon himself to try and force a play, desperate to give his team a chance. But while the Bulls most passionate player raced towards the Boston basket, he hadn't counted on his Celtic equal following his every move. Garnett sprinted after Noah, and at the crucial moment, knocked the ball away from him, into the arms of Davis, who again was fouled. Big Baby this time made both free throws, and when Deng missed a three-pointer wth six seconds on the clock, the game was up. The ever-pumped up Garnett pulled his jersey to the side to expose his left pectoral, and walked around the court punching his heart. As if anyone questioned his desire.
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.
Come on Boston.

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