By Rob Peterson, NBA.com
Posted May 3 2009 11:12AM
BOSTON -- For Boston Celtics fans, there may be no greater sight than Ray Allen by himself.
Whether it's the 3-point line or the free throw line, Allen alone usually means points. So, you can imagine the joy of Celtics fans when they saw Allen racing to the hoop with 39 seconds left with nothing between him but freedom from the Chicago Bulls in the first round and the Orlando Magic in the next.
But even Allen's one-man breakaway, as most everything in this series, turned out to be difficult as Bulls center Brad Miller caught him from behind and hammered (and fouled) Allen just before the ball rolled around the rim and through. Allen converted the free throw to give Boston an eight-point lead, and with 36.6 left, the Celtics and their fans -- who had been holding their breath the whole series -- finally had a chance to exhale.
In an amazing, thrilling, exhausting and fascinating series that had a little bit -- scratch that -- a lot of everything, the Celtics outlasted the Bulls 109-99 to take Game 7 and advance to the East semis against Orlando.
"Tough," Allen said when asked to describe the series. "Definitely the toughest I've been a part of. They gave us everything we could handle. I told [Rajon] Rondo after the game that they were probably the toughest matchup that we've had if I go back to even last year.
"They have guys that at one, two and three are capable of scoring 40 a night and it definitely put a crunch on our defense."
But it was the defense -- the one that was the cornerstone of the Celtics' championship run last season -- and a largely forgotten bench that made the difference between the Celtics playing Monday night and making Monday tee times.
It turns out the Celtics had a little something more in reserve than the Bulls did.
"I was just really proud of our entire team tonight," Rivers said. "We hadn't used our bench much. Eddie House, Mikki Moore comes in and gets four points and charge. [Brian] Scalabrine was phenomenal. Steph [Marbury] was phenomenal."
Still, it truly was a shock that the Celtics veterans off the bench didn't bring much to the table for the first six games. But in Game 7, they more than made up for their absence. After scoring a measly 73 points in the first six games of the series, the Celtics bench scored 28 key points on Saturday.
House, who was shooting .300 from the field prior to tonight, couldn't miss. He hit all five of his field goals, including four 3-pointers and both of his free throws for a series-high 16 points.
Scalabrine, who wasn't even active for the first two games of the series because post-concussion syndrome, hit two huge 3-pointers to keep the Bulls from running away with the game early.
Moore, who barely played in any of the three overtimes in Game 6 even after Kendrick Perkins and Paul Pierce fouled out, had four huge points during a 22-2 second quarter Celtics run.
And then there was Marbury.
Often, the series looked too big for Marbury. In his usual short stints in the second and fourth quarters, Marbury couldn't stay in front of the electric Derrick Rose. In Game 5 with the scored tied at 91-91, Marbury passed up a wide-open 3-pointer. In Game 6, he just looked lost and no more so when he clumsily bumped into Rondo after Rose blocked Rondo's shot late in the third overtime.
But in Game 7, there he was in the second quarter, down in his defensive stance, sticking to Rose like a sweaty shirt on a hot summer's day. Marbury continually met Rose at the top at the top of the key, kept with him through screens and closed out on potential jumpers.
As Rondo sat for the first 6:38 of the second quarter, Marbury's defense on Rose was one of the main reasons the Celtics held Chicago to just 11 points in the period, by far the Bulls most paltry 12-minute output for the series.
Meanwhile, the Bulls seven-man rotation looked as if it were running out of gas. Rose and Ben Gordon were their usual spectacular selves, combining for 51 points, but it took them 41 shots and Gordon's 15-for-15 night at the line to get there.
Their total could have been 50. In a series that never failed be mind-boggling, the Bulls were awarded an extra point in the fourth quarter due to a scoring error that scored a first-quarter Gordon 3-pointer as a two-pointer. NBA spokesman Tim Frank explained.
"There was a miscommunication between the crew chief and the truck during the review in the first quarter," Frank said in an e-mail. "At halftime, the referees became aware of the error. Once the referees received confirmation from the league office that they had the authority to make the change, the change was made."
Still, the Bulls needed more than that one point to make a difference. And for the first time in the series, they found their well of good fortune had run dry.
"I was trying to ride the wave for as long as I could," Gordon said, "but I wasn't really able to sustain it."
Neither were the rest of the Bulls as they saw the Celtics beat them inside (44 points in the paint) and out (9-for-17 from 3-point range). Still, if the Bulls wanted to hang their heads because they lost, they more than had that right. But if they wanted to hold their heads high because of the gallant, gritty effort they gave, they could do that too.
A series like this is something to build upon. Of the Bulls' core that took a defending champion to seven games, only Gordon is a free agent.
"I'm really proud of the way my players fought," Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro said. "They played hard. As a coach, what you're looking for first are guys that are going to play hard. They care and I couldn't be happier."
And frankly, neither could the Celtics. Because as House threw the ball in the air and the final horn sounded, the defending champs had finally shed themselves of the Bulls, and in regulation no less.
"Oh my god, you don't understand, overtime after overtime after overtime, and it gets kind of boring, you know." Boston's Glen Davis said. "But we won."
Who are the Celtics' victory prize? The Magic, who deep-sixed the Sixers in six games and won 59 games this season.
His work with the Bulls done, Allen stood at his locker and in his right hand he held a DVD with the Magic logo on it.
Was he planning on popping it in tonight?
"No," Allen said. "I'll take a look at it Sunday."
After all, Allen and the Celtics had earned the rest of Saturday night off.
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