NBA Playoff Recap - Saturday, May 2
Boston 109, Chicago 99 - Celtics win series, 4-3
The best first-round playoff series the NBA has ever witnessed is now a part of the history books. When the final chapter of Bulls-Celtics needed to be written, an unlikely hero authored a perfect performance to lead the defending champions into the second round.
Saturday's Game 7 between seventh-seeded Chicago and second-seeded Boston was not as polished a product as the previous six contests that preceded it. There wasn't an overtime period (how spoiled basketball fans are!). There wasn't an awesome fourth-quarter shooting display from Ben Gordon or Ray Allen. This decider of the best-of-seven set did not feature a spectacular defensive play from Joakim Noah or a beyond-his-years fadeaway from Rookie of the Year Derrick Rose. Paul Pierce didn't find his sweet spot. Rajon Rondo actually committed 4 turnovers in his worst effort of the whole series (it was still solid, just not superb). Brad Miller didn't bust loose, John Salmons (3-of-12) was mortal from the field, and Kendrick Perkins--dogged by foul trouble--didn't impact the proceedings quite as much as he would have liked. All in all, the people America came to intimately know over the past two weeks of riveting roundball did not decide Game 7 of an unforgettable encounter between a proud champion and a gallant challenger.
Instead of a familiar face, the man who stole the show at TD Banknorth Garden lacked House-hold recognition... until now.
Basketball junkies and people in the know can appreciate the value of Eddie House. The fearless 3-point shooter offers instant offense and floor spacing to teams that need an injection of firepower. Once a part of the Phoenix Suns' high-octane clubs earlier in the decade, House represented one small but meaningful piece of Boston's championship run last season. After the first six games of Bulls-Celtics, however, coach Doc Rivers' long-range sniper hadn't imposed himself on the series. Given few minutes while the Celtics tried to put longer defenders on the Bulls' shooters, House wasn't involved enough to make a difference. Even when he did bang in long-range shots, House--as was seen in the final minute of Thursday's Game 6--didn't set both of his feet behind the 3-point line, costing the C's a precious point that loomed large in a 128-127 loss. If Eddie House was your pick as the X-factor in Game 7, you would have been viewed with as much skepticism as the people who dared to pick Kentucky Derby longshot Mine That Bird.
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Evidently, Saturday was a day of surprises, at the racetrack and on the basketball court.
House didn't just make a nice little contribution to the cause for Boston. He didn't miss a single shot. By going 5-of-5 from the field (4-of-4 from 3-point range) and 2-of-2 at the foul line, House posted a statistically perfect 16-point scoreline. But that only begins to tell the story of this gritty guard's greatness in the Game 7 spotlight. House defended actively and well against Gordon and Chicago's other guards. With just under 50 seconds left in regulation and Boston clinging to a 100-95 lead, House hounded Gordon into a miss that led to two Pierce free throws and a seven-point Celtic advantage. House also was the man who blunted a Bull run midway through the fourth quarter. After Chicago had narrowed a 14-point halftime deficit to 81-77 with 9:45 left, it was House who banged in a corner jumper to push the lead back to 84-77 and relieve the pressure that was mounting inside the Garden. Earlier in the contest, it was a pair of threes from House's right hand that enabled the C's to gain a substantial first-half cushion and breathe easier heading into the second half. Early and late, on offense and defense, in ways both obvious and subtle, Eddie House emerged from the shadows to win the final ballgame of a classic confrontation.
The Celtics will now host the Orlando Magic on Monday night (8 p.m. ET, TNT) in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Such a scenario was expected earlier in the season, but it almost failed to come to pass. Fortunately for the defending NBA champions, a coach named Doc managed to make a House call. Oh, what a great decision that turned out to be.
By Matt Zemek
Pro-Basketball Fans staff-writer
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