One more night in the pressure cooker
CHICAGO -- What if someone had told Muhammad Ali after the Thrilla in Manila that he'd have to go another 15 with Joe Frazier in two days?
What if someone whispered in Kellen Winslow's ear as he was on the verge of heat exhaustion in that 1982 AFC divisional playoff game in Miami that he had to play another 15 minutes of overtime immediately?
This is where we are. Game 7 in the Bulls-Celtics series will be more like Game 8. With the total time played in the seven overtime periods, they've almost completed an extra game. The six games have featured 106 lead changes. Take out Game 3 and you have five games decided by more than three points. All games decided in the final possession.
And that's more than likely what we'll get in Game 7 on Saturday (7 p.m. CT, ESPN Radio 1000): The team that has the ball last will be the team that advances.
If we were honest with ourselves, we'd say we've seen nothing like this before. We always talk about how great Game 7s are in sports, but there has never been a lead-up to any Game 7 quite like this. And with that said, if you're a Bulls fan, don't be sad if it ends here.
It has to end there for someone.
Between now and tipoff, you will hear often from Bulls players and coaches (rightfully so) that "All the pressure is on Boston." Don't fall for it. Don't be a sucker. Pressure, if taken for what it actually means, is a component of your comfort level. The Celtics have been in this position before. The Bulls haven't.
And this is where last season will play a bigger role than most think or are willing to believe. The fact that the Celtics (even though they had KG at the time) went through two Game 7s just last spring and ended the season with rings on their fingers is easily something Doc Rivers can tap into. Vinny Del Negro and his staff don't have that.
The minute the Bulls begin to believe the pressure is on Boston, they're defeated. Pressure isn't always about the team that has the most to lose. The pressure might be on the team that is the most unfamiliar with being in this territory.
Think about it.
The Bulls, however, will definitely have their chances. Ray Allen will not have another game like Game 6. Just as Rivers said Allen "went off" for 51 because his legs were rested after fouling out early in Game 5, the same philosophy must apply on the other end. Allen should be tired. Legs done. Ray should be Ray again, not Jesus.
KG will not do a Willis Reed impersonation and walk onto the court in his sweats to ignite the crowd and inspire his teammates. This series seems like it's something out of the Disney vault, but it ain't. This is real reality TV. KG is hurt; he's not playing or going to pretend like he will.
Now, the one problem -- and it could be a big one -- for Chicago will be trying to contain Ben Gordon if the game is close. See, BG fouling out and not being able to contribute in the overtimes of Game 6 will probably make him overanxious and feel like he has to make up for that in Game 7. That's something the Bulls cannot afford to have happen.
But the question is, who's going to stop it from happening?
Del Negro is a rookie coach. He's not in a position to stop it because he hasn't been with BG long enough. Derrick Rose can't stop it because he hasn't been in the league long enough to tell BG what's necessary to win games like this. Ben's not going to stop it because well, that's him. That's what superstars do. That's what they're supposed to do.
It's just going to be a matter of how it gets done. If the Bulls can find a way to run plays for Ben -- re-read, plays for Ben -- as opposed to just giving him the ball as he crosses half court with 20 seconds left on the shot clock and watching him try to figure out a way to get a shot off, then they have a chance of having Ben "shock the world," as opposed to shaking up theirs. If they can find a way to get him the ball off screens with somewhere closer to eight seconds on the shot clock and somewhere around or just inside the 3-point line on several (not every!) occasions, then they have a legit shot (pun intended) at winning.
Basically, if Ben Gordon comes into the game with the same mentality and efficiency that Allen did for Boston in Game 6, then Orlando will be the Bulls' next destination. But how do you tell a hero not to be a hero? Especially if he feels he might have let his team down in the previous game.
So basically it will come down to a mind game. Who will make the smarter decisions in the moment. A moment that is still fresh in the Celtics' memories from just last postseason. A moment they lived to talk about twice.
And after Game 7 -- which, if the Bulls and the Celts stick to the script, will only deepen the validation that this is, game-to-game, the greatest playoff series in the history of any sport -- we will see who let the supposed pressure get to them. As clichéd as it sounds, I think it applies to this series more than any other: It's too bad one of these teams has to lose.
Scoop Jackson is a columnist for ESPN.com and ESPNChicago.com.