The NBA Playoffs, it’s a time that fans of basketball wait for, and non-basketball fans tune in to. Over the years there have been some playoff series that have been to put simply, epic. I thought I’d go through my favorite NBA Playoff series that I’ve witnessed.
Here, I’ve reviewed each game, and looked at the key moments that I think lead to the series becoming one of the greatest of all time.
For me, some of the basketball gameplay, the shot making, passing, and the way both teams were lead by their respective captains is why this series is head and shoulders above many. Paul Pierce only added to the legend that he was in Boston, and added to his reputation of the Celtics late game closer and Derrick Rose showed his talents on the big stage and became one of the most exciting players to play at the point guard position in the NBA.
2008/09, fresh off their 2007/08 NBA Championship, the Boston Celtics held the number 2 seed, and were to face off in the first round against the rookie of the year Derrick Rose and his 7th seeded Chicago Bulls. The Big 3 of Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and team captain Paul Pierce, the Celtics were still an ominous force in the league, and paired with budding star point guard Rajon Rondo, everyone questioned whether Chicago could even take one game away from the reigning champions.
The baby Bulls did more than that however, lead by rookie of the year Derrick Rose, they would become apart of one of the greatest NBA Playoff series of all time.
The Celtics took a hit before Game 1 even began though, with Kevin Garnett to be sidelined for the rest of the season due to a strained tendon his knee, and general manager Danny Ainge, suffering a small heart attack. Two incidents that could make the Celtics venerable, and that’s what Chicago pounced on in Game 1.
April 18th, 2009 TD Banknorth Garden in Boston Massachusetts, Game 1 begins, and the Bulls start the series on fire.
Boston didn’t look like the champion Celtics of last season throughout the game. Derrick Rose made two free throws to give Chicago a 97-96 lead, but with 2.6 seconds to play Paul Pierce rose up for a game-winning jumper, and was fouled by Joakim Noah to the dismay of every Chicago fan watching.
Pierce stepped up to the free throw line, knocked down the first to tie the game at 97, but missed a regulation shot, one that he makes 95/100 times, which sent the game into overtime, where Chicago, led by rookie of the year Derrick Rose, who dominated the game with 36 points on 12/19 shooting, while adding 11 assists, shocked the Celtics on their home floor running out 105-103 winners after Allen missed a game tying shot to send it into another overtime.
The Celtics struggled, Ray Allen made only one shot on 12 attempts, for just 4 points in the game, and it was left up to Rondo to do the bulk of the scoring, putting in 29 points (12 in the first quarter) and adding 9 rebounds and 7 assists. The Celtics shot a measly 39% for the afternoon, and had no answer for Rose, who put the team on his back to take the home court advantage, and a 1-0 lead in the series.
Game 2, in Boston, a now must win for the Celtics.
It was a back and forth game, much like Game 1, and Ben Gordon became the spark for the Bulls. He poured in 42 points on 14/24 shooting, including 6 triples, and 2 huge jump shots to help the Bulls tie the game at 115 with 12.3 seconds remaining. The Bulls looked like they could escape Boston with a 2-0 lead, and stun every NBA expert and fan in the league, but Ray Allen had other plans.
Allen, who scored only 2 points in the first half, came off a strong screen set by Glen Davis, and over Joakim Noah hit the game winning three with just 2.0 seconds left on the clock. Chicago had no timeouts and Tyrus Thomas threw up a prayer which was short, and the Celtics leveled the series at 1 a piece heading to Chicago as TD Garden exploded in a frenzy of fan celebration.
Ray Allen went to the locker room with just 2 points to his name at halftime. When the final buzzer sounded, he had 30 points next to his name, and a game winning three-point jumper to bail the Celtics out of what could have been a huge deficit heading to Chicago. Head coach Doc Rivers wanted someone to win the game for the Celtics at halftime, and Allen took that role on seriously, scoring 28 in the 2nd half, and putting in 6 threes to cap off a remarkable half of basketball for the 33 year old shooting guard.
The series shifted to the Windy City, Chicago Illinois for Game 3. The Bulls looked to take a commanding 3-1 lead before heading back to Boston, while the Celtics looked to steal home court back from the Bulls.
Game 3 played out perfectly for the Celtics. Paul Pierce started 6/6 in the first quarter, (13 points) and the Celtics lead by 11 after the first period. The Bulls struggled to hit their shots, shooting just 37.5% from the field, to the Celtics 48%, which was the story of the game.
The Celtics lead by 22 points at halftime and never looked back, led by captain Paul Pierce, the Celtics propelled themselves to a 2-1 lead over the Bulls, and regained home court advantage. Pierce scored 24 points, while Rondo put in 20 and grabbed 11 rebounds as well as 5 steals and 6 assists to fill up the box score for Boston.
Rose was kept quiet for the second game in a row with just 9 points on 4/14 shooting, and committing 7 turnovers, finishing the game with a plus/minus of -32, a far cry from his Game 1 performance that had everyone talking.
Despite the loss, the Bulls still showed heart and fight, and never thought they were out of the series, which showed in Game 4 back in Chicago.
Game 4, the first of the 3 greatest NBA playoff games in a row I believe. The Bulls dress only 8 players, and look depleted before the game even starts.
Just three minutes into the game, Joakim Noah throws a beautiful bounce pass to a cutting Derrick Rose, who rises up and throws down the hammer dunk, 3 minutes later, a touch pass is thrown to Noah, and he throws down a thunderous one handed jam, showing the intentions of the Chicago Bulls that afternoon.
The Bulls inside passing was key to their Game 4 victory. Noah, Rose and Thomas made some superb passes to find open teammates for jump shots, and cutting players for easy lay ups to keep them in touch with the Celtics.
Rose came back strong from 2 quiet games, scoring 23 points, to go along with 11 rebounds and 9 assists, and combined with Gordon’s 20 points, helped the Bulls stave off a 3-1 lead to tie the series at 2-2 heading back to Boston, but they had to work hard for the victory, the Celtics weren’t going to lie down on the road.
After 3 quarters, the Bulls trailed by 5 points, and the Celtics looked to build on that lead and take a commanding 3-1 lead back to Boston to possibly close out the series.
However with less than 10 seconds to play, incredibly, the Bulls lead 96-93, until a lapse in concentration let Ray Allen get open on the three-point line, and knock down a triple to tie the game at 96 with 9.8 seconds to play. It looked like Chicago had let a golden opportunity to steal the game slip away, and the game was sent into OT tied at 96.
With just over 5 seconds left, the game looked all but over, but Ben Gordon got free, and rose up over Paul Pierce and knocked down a huge contested triple to tie the game at 110 with 4.5 seconds to go, sending the Bulls crowd wild, and sending the game into a second overtime period where the Bulls got away with a 121-118 victory with just 8 active players against the reigning NBA champions.
The series was starting to become a legendary one. Game 5 back in Boston, it was now a best of 3 game series, tied at 2-2.
What seemed like the inevitable happened, it would go into overtime to get a result, for the 4th OT period of the series, and third overtime period in 2 games. The Bulls came out strong, they looked confident after winning the last game on their home floor, and carried that momentum into Boston, but the Celtics were a champion team, and lent on their captain Paul Pierce down the stretch.
The Truth tied the game at 91 with a contested driving layup with 1:19 left on the clock in the 4th quarter. Pierce had been the man for Boston for the last 10 years, and in his mind knew that he had to be the one to lead the Celtics to victory, and withstood all the pressure of the city of Boston in a 4th quarter to remember for the team leader and Boston Celtic legend.
After Ben Gordon hit a stunning jump shot from the baseline that sent a hush around TD Garden, putting Chicago up 93-91 with 16.6 to play on the road, Paul Pierce called for the ball, and immediately went to work on the shorter Derrick Rose, with a superb spinning fade away jump shot from the top of the key, to tie the game at 93 with 10.5 seconds remaining. Ben Gordon missed the game winner, and again, like the previous game, overtime was needed to split the two teams.
Yes, Paul Pierce wasn’t done.
Tied at 104, Pierce sized up John Salmons, and from the top of the key, drained the jumper to put the Celtics up 106-104 with just 3.4 left on the clock. After Miller was fouled at the buzzer, he stepped up to tie the game from the free throw line. The pressure got to him, and be missed both, giving the Celtics a 2 point win and more importantly a 3-2 lead.
Pierce finished with 26 points on 11/22 shooting. He sizzled for 15 of his 26 points in the 4th quarter and overtime. Personally, It’s one of the great playoff performances to bring the Celtics out of the jaws of defeat not only once, but twice.
Kendrick Perkins, the Celtics center was also a huge factor, grabbing 19 rebounds to go with his 16 points and 7 blocks in the game, giving the Celtics the inside presence they needed to stop Rose’ penetration in the key. With the series lead, the Celtics looked to put the Bulls to bed in Chicago in Game 6, but Chicago was never a team to lie down, as they showed, in what is the greatest game I’ve personally witnessed in the NBA Playoffs.
Bulls facing elimination, a 51-point individual performance from Ray Allen, a 19 assist game from Rajon Rondo, a 35 point effort from John Salmons, and a 23 point explosion off the bench from Brad Miller. What more could a Game 6 bring, except a triple overtime thriller inside the United Center.
It was a fiery game to start, Kirk Hinrich and Rajon Rondo go into it 28 seconds out from the end of the first period, after Rondo grabbed Kirk’s arm and swung him into the scorers table. They both had to be restrained by the refs, and Hinrich’s Bulls lead by 11 after the first quarter, but couldn’t sustain Ray Allen and the Celtics in the 2nd, and at the half the lead had been cut to 1.
Allen scored 29 of the Celtics 57 first half points, keeping them in the game on his own shooting. He ended the game with 51 points on 18/32 from the field, including 9 triples in 58 minutes of game time.
The Celtics game from 91-81 down, with an 18-0 run to lead 99-91 with 3 minutes to play, which was led by Pierce, knocking down 3 jumpers to push the lead to 8 and almost shut the Bulls down until Brad Miller hit a huge 3, and then made a driving layup to tie the game at 101. Chicago had saved itself once again on the brink of elimination.
Gordon missed a long two to win the game, and you guessed it, another overtime began, the first of three.
With 20 seconds to go in the 2nd OT, Ray Allen stepped up and drained what can only be described as an implausible shot to level the score at 116 with 20 seconds left. Let’s go again, another 5 minutes of overtime.
Three of the Boston starters fouled out, with Pierce, Perkins and Davis all going out, which lead to Chicago taking hold of the game in the third period. Pierce turned the ball over and fouled Noah on a breakaway slam, which sent Pierce packing to the bench with 6 personals, which put Chicago up 126-123 after the free throw.
Rose blocked a Rondo game-winning jumper, but missed the two free throws, Rondo missed a heave to win the game, and the Bulls were triumphant in one of the greatest playoff games in the history of the game.
Final, Bulls 128 defeat Celtics 127, 3/OT, series tied at 3-3 heading to Boston for the deciding Game 7. Wow.
For the Bulls, getting to a Game 7 was a dream against the reigning NBA Champions. On the back of Rose, Gordon and Noah, they had taken the ‘Big 3 of the series, Allen, Pierce and Rondo to the limit, and had shown fight that is rare in many number 7 seeds do.
Game 7, Boston put the clamps down. Despite a 33-point effort from Ben Gordon, the Celtics closed out the Bulls with a 109-99 victory in Boston. Eddie House propelled the reigning champions from the bench, scoring 16 points on 5/5 from the floor, including 4/4 from behind the arc to send the Celtics to the 2nd round, but not without a test.
The Bulls made the Celtics earn their second round spot. Everyone thought the Celtics could sweep the Bulls in what was a pretty weak Chicago team according to some. Not only did they gain an enormous amount of respect around the league, they also grew into a team that was highly skilled and talented.
The series finished with a record 4 overtime games, and 7 overtime periods throughout. Unbelievable.
Two seasons later, Rose lead the Bulls to the number 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, and was named the NBA MVP, averaging 25 points per game, along with 7.7 assists.
There you have it, a review of my favourite playoff series leading up to the NBA Finals. If you haven’t seen the highlights, make sure you watch, because this series for me was two superbly talented teams going for the ultimate prize, and accepting nothing less, even when they looked down and out.