Game Notes: Celtics at Bulls
Despite controversy, the Bulls move one step closer to making the playoffs.
by Bryan Crawford / @from_the_chi
What happened at the United Center last night, I don’t think anybody saw coming. How could you?
Overshadowing the biggest game of the season for the Bulls was a story about a “fight” between Vinny Del Negro and GM John Paxson which happened two weeks ago after a home game against the Phoenix Suns; a game in which the Bulls lost. Allegedly, the issue which caused Paxson to become irate with Del Negro and confront him was the number of minutes Joakim Noah played against the Suns. With regards to his recovery from plantar fasciitis, Joakim’s minutes were to be restricted and Vinny had apparently gone over the threshold.
The story broke just before the game and by tip-off, everybody was talking about it. But as strange as the story and the timing of it coming out was, it was hardly a distraction for Chicago as they beat the Celtics and moved one step closer towards their goal of facing LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round of the playoffs.
And it’s not like the players were just so focused on beating Boston that the story about their head coach and GM having an altercation didn’t bother them. Some didn’t know that the story had gotten out while others seemed to not even know about it all.
“How y’all hear about that?” was Luol Deng’s response after the game when asked what he knew about the incident. When reporters questioned Derrick Rose about it, he seemed genuinely surprised at the news and from his reaction, it appeared that he may not have even known about it. “What happened?” said Rose a little alarmingly and inquisitively. When the incident was explained to him he said, “I never heard about it. If it did happen, it slipped past me.”
Vinny Del Negro obviously wouldn’t comment on it, choosing to take the high road when pressed, but it does make one wonder if the only people in the room when the altercation occurred were VDN, Pax, and Bernie Bickerstaff who allegedly had to separate the two, how did this story get out and why did it come up before arguably the biggest game of the year? It’s just another case of the internal dysfunction that is the Chicago Bulls.
Still, the team is on the cusp of making the playoffs for the second straight season and whatever issues there are internally, it’s obvious that when it comes to making the postseason, everybody is on the same page. “There’s nothing better than playing on the biggest stage in the world, and that’s the NBA playoffs,” said Joakim Noah. “You’re playing against the best players, and that’s what it’s all about.”
The Bulls playoff focus and the fact that their backs were literally against the wall spelled trouble for the Celtics who came into Tuesday night’s game playing for something as well. A win against the Bulls would have put them in pretty good position to secure the third seed in the East, but a loss would lock them into the fourth spot. The difference between the third and fourth seed is huge because it’s the determining factor on when you have to run into the buzz-saw known as LeBron James and company. Finish third and you don’t have to see the Cavs until the Eastern Conference Finals. Finish fourth, and they’re your second round opponent. Said Doc Rivers before the game, “We have a chance to get the third seed if we win both [final two regular season games] and get help.”
They would get no such help from the Bulls.
Derrick Rose played like a man on a mission; or at least a man trying to fulfill his own prophecy. If you recall, a few weeks back Rose guaranteed that the Bulls would be the team facing the Cavaliers in the first round and not the Toronto Raptors. So in what may have been the biggest game in his young career, he dominated from start to finish and put up a career high 39 points to lead his team to the win. Two of those points came off a nasty reverse breakaway jam that sent the United Center crowd into hysterics. Kirk Hinrich also played what may have been his finest game in at least two years scoring 30 points on 11-20 shooting from the field and 4-7 from the three-point line. Those two were the only Bulls players in double figures the whole night.
The Celtics got solid contributions from Ray Allen (25 points), Paul Pierce (28 points), and Kevin Garnett (14 points, 9 rebounds), but it wouldn’t be enough as the scrappy Bulls managed to hold them off.
Making the night even more special was just before the start of the second quarter, the Bulls honored Scottie Pippen who will be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame later this year and to everyone’s surprise (including my own), Pippen emerged from the Bulls tunnel and made his way to center court where he received a long, standing ovation from the United Center crowd. It was a wonderful moment for not only Pippen, but Bulls fans everywhere who remember Scottie’s years here in the Windy City.
For the Bulls, the fight isn’t over though. After the game the team headed to the airport to catch a flight to Charlotte to face the Bobcats in the final game of the regular season. Win and they’re in, it’s as simple as that. “I don’t know why, but people have been saying that that Charlotte game at the end of the year, everybody circled that game and said that’s going to be a huge game right there,” said Joakim Noah. “I don’t know why, but so many people told me that. And it’s true. It’s coming down to the wire, we control our own destiny, and tomorrow it’s going to be a war.”