BOSTON -- At the moment when it happened, it was the very thing this series needed and the very thing it had lacked all along.
There had already been seven overtimes in the first six games, a wild second-quarter swing that turned Game 7 Boston's way, a scoring mishap, emotional outbursts here and there.
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Basically, it was all still a frenzy in the epic Bulls-Celtics series when Doc Rivers rose from his seat midway through the third quarter, raised his hands up to hip level with his palms facing downward and motioned as though he was pushing down, ever so slowly.
The universal gesture for "calm down."
There were basketball fans across America and around the world who hadn't calmed down for two full weeks watching this classic go this way and then that way, and folks all around the Garden who seemed to be expending as much emotion Saturday night as they had through all three rounds of last year's playoffs combined.
Big Baby Davis was struggling; Rajon Rondo was struggling even worse; and while Ray Allen and Paul Pierce weren't struggling all that much, the Celtics weren't getting them the ball often enough to ride a single hot hand.
Still, a 22-2 run to close the first half had put the Celtics in command, and the inevitable Bulls run was gaining steam -- what, you expected them to slink off quietly after the way the first six games had gone? -- when Rivers picked that moment to jump out of his seat and plead for the champions to start acting like champions.
"Thank goodness we were battle-tested," said Pierce, whose teammates came up with enough big stops and clutch buckets to keep the Bulls an arm's length away for the rest of the evening to prevail in a 109-99 victory Saturday night and advance into the second round against Orlando.
Rivers' palms-down gesture came with Boston ahead 60-51, and the calming effect it had was apparent on the Celtics' next possession. They swung the ball the way they always do when playing their best, then Rondo found Davis inside for a chippy that upped the lead to 11.
"We turned into the Celtics again," Rivers said. "Multiple stops equal multiple scores, and we got big stops along with rebounds that allowed us to be the transition team."
It was, of all things, the much-maligned bench that helped the Celtics remain the Celtics. With a need for fresh legs and with starters in foul trouble, Rivers turned to Eddie House (5-for-5 overall, 4-for-4 on 3s), Stephon Marbury (4:17 of fourth-quarter playing time without a single turnover) and Brian Scalabrine (8 points total, with almost eight minutes of fourth-quarter playing time as well) to finish this one off.
Points for Rondo in the fourth quarter: Zero. Field goals for Pierce in the fourth: Zero. Fourth-quarter baskets by Ray Allen: One.
In fact, House's three fourth-quarter buckets represented half of Boston's total as they scored 17 of their final 31 points from the line, nailing their final 16 tries.
"I had in mind how I wanted to use my bench, but the game was going to dictate whether I could do that," said Rivers, who exchanged phone calls with House, Marbury and Mikki Moore the night before to tell them to be ready.
And with House, Rivers told him it would be his defense -- not his offense -- that dictated whether he would be a key component in Game 7.
House ended up playing all but 122 seconds of the second half, and Boston's 30-25 edge in bench points marked just the second time in the series their reserves outscored Chicago's.
For a team that had been reduced from a Big Three to a Big Two and a Half (Rondo deserves better, but there's room for only three in the Big Three), the added effort from the reserves provided the X factor that no one could have confidently predicted was coming.
Then again, confidence is one of the things that define a champion.
And Rivers didn't just get his team to keep its poise when it needed some calming; he also provided the Celtics with some confidence afterward that they never saw coming.
Gathering the Celtics in the victorious locker room, he told them to take the day off and study their scouting books on Orlando.
The players were perplexed: "Scouting books? What scouting books?"
"The ones in your cars," Rivers replied.
Turns out Rivers had sent a team employee to each of the players' cars during the game to drop off a scouting book in each vehicle.
That is the bold kind of stuff that champions do, and the Celtics lived up to their pedigree in ending one of the most memorable playoff series we've seen in any round in NBA history.
So all you folks out there in Celtics Nation, repeat Rivers' gesture, please. Put your hands out, push 'em down a bit and take a long, deep breath. Calm down, just like Rivers made the Celtics do.
This one is over, and the champs emerged looking more like champs than they had all series -- maybe even more than they had since back in late December.
The ball goes up again Monday night, this time against Orlando, and there's still room in the rafters here for an 18th banner. Doesn't matter if you lose three as long as you win four, and when you have the poise and precision that come from being proven postseason performers, things can work out just fine in the end, no matter how bumpy the road.Chris Sheridan covers the NBA for ESPN Insider. To e-mail Sheridan, click here.
BOSTON -- Well, it's over ... sigh.
The best NBA first-round playoff series this side of ever finally came to a reluctant end Saturday evening as the Boston Celtics cut the Chicago Bulls into Game 7 sushi rolls. The C's won 109-99 and move to the Eastern Conference semis against Orlando. The B's return to Chicago, but with their heads in the raised position.
Anticlimactic? Sure, but only because there's almost no way this series could have sustained its historic pace. It would have been like running 2-minute miles for the entire Boston Marathon.
But it tried. Seven games, seven overtime periods. Just one blowout. There were stitches, bloody towels, painkilling injections, shoves, flagrants, technicals. More ice was used in this series than at a 3-for-1 Happy Hour.
Afterward, in a hallway just outside the Celtics' locker room, Boston coach Doc Rivers, wearing his shamrock cuff links, and Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro exchanged hugs. It was a respect thing.
"Helluva series," said Rivers to the rookie coach. "Helluva job. Trade all those guys away. I don't want to see them anymore."
Rivers is right; the Bulls weren't much fun to play. And they're only going to get better. But the Celtics didn't win a championship by accident last season. They're world-class grinders, and that's what they did Saturday night -- they paper-cutted the Bulls to playoff death.
Trying to put this particular best-of-seven into quick historical perspective is a little tricky. Celtics captain Paul Pierce said it was "one of the most mentally tough series I've ever had to deal with." Rivers added, "I didn't see great. I just saw hard."
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Eddie House, Celtics: The ball left his hand seven times, and found the net each time. He came off the bench and made all four of his 3-pointers. He had made only one shot in the previous two games.
John Salmons, Bulls: He made 3-of-12 shots in the loss, a far cry from his giant night in Game 6, when he scored 35 points in 60 minutes. Of course, without the Bulls' additions of Salmons and Brad Miller from the Kings, there's no series to talk about.
QUOTE OF THE NIGHT
"I thought someone was going to report they saw Bigfoot and Sasquatch."
-- Celtics coach Doc Rivers, on speculation that Kevin Garnett would return for Game 7
(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Paul Pierce wipes his brow as a sign of relief after the first-round win over the Chicago Bulls.
Why am I not surprised Eddie House showed up at exactly the right time?
Tony Allen is locked in the doghouse.
Another good game from Davis and Perk -- 29 points combined -- and the scoring was well-balanced overall.
Thirty-nine percent shooting for Chicago. The defense showed up tonight.
Zach Lowe's work can be found on the TrueHoop Network's Celtics' blog, CelticsHub.com
Houston comes into this series off a very impressive and balanced performance against a talented Portland team. Importantly, the Rockets played their best game of the series in Game 1, on the road, and beat Portland all three times at home. Of course, it's a recipe they'd like to cook up again in Round 2. Los Angeles cruised to a 4-1 series win over Utah. The games were tough battles, but it seemed L.A. rarely had to dig deep to pull out any of the wins. That was fine against an outmanned Jazz squad, but the Lakers are now facing a very tough defensive team that seems to tighten up on defense even more in the playoffs.
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Eddie House finally enacted some revenge on Ben Gordon after Gordon lit House up for much of the series. When they were matched up, House held Gordon to 0-for-5 shooting from the field, including 0-for-4 in the fourth quarter.
Overall, Boston was much more effective getting the ball down low. The Bulls had only 24 shot attempts in the paint, hitting just 37.5 percent of them.
Boston shot extremely well when moving the ball around; the Celtics finished the game with 25 assists. The Celtics were able to play their trademark defense and recover to contest shots and hold the Bulls below 45 percent on shots off the pass.
House and Brian Scalabrine were a huge force off the bench for Boston. The two combined to shoot 6-of-7 on 3-pointers. House was a perfect 5-for-5 from the floor, and all of his attempts were jump shots.
Gordon struggled late, hitting just 1-of-9 from the field in the fourth quarter. For the game, he was much more effective shooting off the pass (5-11 FG) than off the dribble (2-12 FG).