Commentary

Reality check

Originally Published: April 20, 2009
By Jerry Bonkowski | ESPNChicago.com

For nearly 48 minutes Monday night, Bulls fans likely were shaking their heads, asking each other one question after another.

Who are these guys? Imposters? Ringers? The second coming of Michael and the Jordanaires?

That's how good the Bulls looked in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal matchup with the Boston Celtics. A team that few gave hope of winning even one game in a series with the defending NBA champs suddenly was on the verge of going up 2-0 in the best-of-seven series.

But just when it looked like the Bulls would once again shock the reigning champs at home, Boston's Ray Allen stepped up to the plate and drilled a game-winning three-pointer in the closing seconds to quickly slap the Bulls back to stark reality with a 118-115 loss to the Celtics.

Instead of coming home to the United Center with a two-game lead -- and essentially halfway home to Round 2 of the playoffs -- the Bulls' Cinderella-like hopes of a four-game sweep went down the tubes when Allen's jumper hit net.

With the way the scrappy Bulls have overachieved this season, particularly down the stretch as well as in Saturday's series-opening upset, it would not be an exaggeration to say Bulls fans were starting to remember what it was like when their favorites won six NBA titles in the 1990s.

Had it not been for Allen's game-winning bomb, there was a budding and legitimate belief that if the red-and-black express could steamroll the defending champs, they could roll over anyone from this point on.

LeBron and the Cavs? Hah, pushovers. Or potentially meeting the Lakers, Kobe and ex-coach Phil Jackson in the NBA Finals? Might as well concede the title to the Bulls now.

That's what not having a championship-caliber team in town for the last 11 seasons can do to fans who are so hungry to see their team return to glory days. One big upset game like Saturday's and you couldn't blame the typical Bulls fan from being a little giddy and overzealous.

Those same fans want to rock the UC for this year's edition of the Bulls, clapping and stomping with thunder-like cheering and applause. They want to relish another moment much like they did when Michael Jordan's Bulls won one playoff series after another.

Saturday's upset win at Boston fueled that fire, but Monday's loss brought that fire under control for now.

But there's one thing Bulls' fans can hang their hopes on: Saturday's win was not a fluke. And as far as Monday's loss, Rose likely will not be held to just 10 points in Game 3 on Thursday as he was on Monday.

Just like Ben Gordon exploded for 42 in a losing effort Monday, Rose likely will do what he has done so many times already: bounce back and bounce back big.

He scored 36 points in Game 1; who's to say he won't score 50 in Game 3 to show the Celtics that Monday's output was an aberration.

Let's give props to Boston, but don't think the Bulls are going to roll over after one loss. If anything, it will make them even more dangerous.

They've gone through this season with a chip on their shoulder, having something to prove. And even though it took a while for other teams to realize just how serious and good Vinny Del Negro's charges really were, they've proven they can play with virtually anyone.

Sure, Celtics fans might counter that if injured superstar and team leader Kevin Garnett were in uniform instead of sitting helplessly on the bench in street clothes, the Bulls would be nothing but a pushover, a mere fly to be swatted away into oblivion.

There's no question how much Boston misses Garnett. It showed numerous times during both Saturday and perhaps even more so in Monday's game. Garnett's leadership was one of the keys as Boston rolled to last year's championship.

But Allen proved Monday that he's not going to let the Bulls walk over his decimated team. While Garnett is a forgotten entity for now, Allen's 25-foot game-winning jumper -- this, coming from a nine-time NBA all-star and one of the most prolific three-point shooters in league history -- proved that the Celtics aren't a one-dimensional team.

Jerry Bonkowski is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.

Jerry Bonkowski | email

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Award-winning sportswriting veteran Jerry Bonkowski returns to ESPN, having previously served as NASCAR columnist/writer for ESPN.com from 2001 to 2004. A lifelong Chicago native, Jerry spent 15 years with USA Today, where he covered all sports -- with heavy emphasis on Chicago-area teams -- and the past 4½ years as National NASCAR Columnist with Yahoo! Sports.

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