Culture of Hoops

Thank God It’s Flashback Friday: Bulls at Celtics

Image courtesy of Keith Allison/Flickr.

Image courtesy of Keith Allison/Flickr.

Thanks for checking in for my first official TGIFF: Thank God It’s Flashback Friday column (One day late, but still). You might have seen my Malace at the Palace piece last week, and maybe that’s why you decided to come back. Or you Google searched the name Linton Johnson and this is the only thing that popped up (we’ll get to that, don’t worry). Either way, you’re in for a treat. Today, I’m taking on an all-time great game from what could very easily be considered the greatest NBA Playoff series ever.

The Game

2009 Eastern Conference 1st Round Game 2, Chicago Bulls at Boston Celtics

The Backstory

The Boston Celtics come into the 2009 NBA Playoffs as the defending NBA champions and the #2 seed in the Eastern Conference and facing off against the upstart Chicago Bulls, the No. 7 seed. Even though the Celtics were without Kevin Garnett for 25 games during the regular season, they finished with 62 wins, third most in the league. You might know Garnett as that old, fairly washed up dude who plays for the Brooklyn Nets. The Bulls on the other hand made an eight game leap from 33-49 to a respectable 41-41 after a significant amount of luck, or some finagling from the league depending on how much of a conspiracy theorist you are, in the NBA Draft lottery. Despite less than a two percent chance, the Bulls obtained the top pick in the NBA Draft and selected Chicago’s own Derrick Rose with the first overall selection. Ten months later they’d be in Boston attempting to jump out to a 2-0 lead in the 1st Round on the defending NBA Champions.

Fun fact: While this game was being played I was on an airplane heading back from Florida to New York, so this is a special treat for me to be able to watch it now for the first time. Thank goodness for YouTube, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to break out my handy-dandy notebook (© Steve from Blues Clues) and let you guys know what jumped out at me from this classic encounter.

The Notes

  • Calling the game for TNT is the always reliable Kevin Harlan and the vastly underrated Doug Collins, now an ESPN employee. As you go on this journey with me you’ll come to learn that one of my biggest pet peeves is a bad announcer. It drives me nuts. I understand that not everybody can be Marv Albert, but some guys just flat out suck at their profession and I say that in all seriousness. I’ll be the first to admit that I would do a flat out horrible job with it, but the same could be said for guys who are actually getting paid to do so. It’s usually local announcers who are so annoyingly biased that it’s a total turn off—as in I opt to turn off the volume.
  • I don’t mean to be a bring-down, but it’s a real shame that this is the only postseason battle that Rajon Rondo and Derrick Rose have had and likely will have for the foreseeable future. Can you imagine watching those two go at each other in the playoffs year after year after the rumored animosity between the two surfaced? By my calculation, this is where it started and it shouldn’t have ended here. Even though Ben Gordon and Ray Allen had the two biggest individual games of the series, the most compelling matchup at the time was without question Rose vs. Rondo. In the series Rose averaged 19.7 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 6.4 assists. Good stuff. Rondo averaged 19.4 points, 9.3 rebounds, and 11.6 assists. Better stuff.
  • You want to know one of the reasons the Celtics didn’t repeat as champions in 2009? Big Baby took on a really prominent role. In Game 2 he took 10 shots in the 1st quarter. Aside from when Davis was playing Baton Rouge, there isn’t any good reason why he should be taking 10 shots in a 12 minute span. And yes, Baby played awesome in Game 2. He went for 26 points and 9 rebounds. But that can’t be something you rely on long-term in the postseason.
  • I guarantee you that you’ve already forgotten how gritty and tough the Big Three Era Celtics were. That’s what makes them endearing to me now, even though I thoroughly detested every guy on that team save for Rondo during their time at the top of the league. Every guy played hard. Every guy dove for loose balls. Every guy dug in on defense. Even without KG playing, his identity carried over and it showed in every Celts player.
  • We need to talk about Joakim Noah. I think Noah is one of the 12 best players in the NBA. I think that everything he does is underappreciated, and I don’t just mean what is seen in the box score. The yelling, the flexing, the intensity … that stuff means a lot in my book. Here’s the problem; in 2009 Joakim Noah was not much else besides the yelling, the flexing and the intensity. He wasn’t an all-league defender. He wasn’t an offensive linchpin. He was raw, with the exception of the yelling, flexing and intense demeanor. In those areas of his game, he was a seasoned vet from the time he came into the league.The reason I bring this up is because I forgot how remarkable young Joakim Noah was. He talked a bunch of crap, got in dude’s faces, ran around like a madman, and in this particular game, got clearly outplayed by both Glen Davis and Kendrick Perkins. You could make a case that even a washed-up Brad Miller gave Chicago better minutes than Noah did. And still, he carried himself the exact same way he does now. I can’t decide if I enjoy the current version of Noah or the irrationally confident and annoying Noah more.
  • The Celtics opened up the 2nd quarter with an Eddie House, Stephon Marbury, Paul Pierce, Mikki Moore and Leon Powe quintet that was so uninspiring on paper that it may be the reason why Tom Thibodeau has been notorious for not using a deep bench.
  • And speaking of the Celtics bench, I don’t think I’ll ever have a good answer as to why Tony Allen only got four seconds of playing time in this game. Did you know Stephon Marbury got 10 minutes of P.T. in Game 2? Marbury was so washed up at this point that I truly believe Stefon from SNL could’ve made as much of an impact on this game as Stephon Marbury did. Yes yes yes yes yes.[youtube][/youtube]
  • Here’s one more bench nugget for you: Vinny Del Negro played a fella named Linton Johnson for a minute and 14 seconds, and I don’t have the slightest idea who that is. I’m stumped.
  • Another reason this game is notable: Rajon Rondo posted his first career playoff triple-double. Nine more have followed in the years since. Triple-doubles are something we just expect from Rondo at this point. My friend Jeremiah frequently refers to Rondo as a “Walking Triple-Double.” I can’t say I disagree with that description. For what it’s worth, Rondo got this one with six minutes left … in the third quarter.
  • Reason number 312 you know that this game was played in 2009 and not 2014: Kendrick Perkins post-iso’s were a thing.
  • Reason number 313 you know that this game was played in 2009 and not 2014: Kendrick Perkins post-iso’s were working.
  • Reason number 314 you know that this game was played in 2009 and not 2014: Kendrick Perkins post-iso’s were working with Joakim Noah playing defense. If this were to happen in 2014 it would be considered a sign of the apocalypse.
  • I know you probably don’t have the time to watch this whole game, but at the very least, you should watch the 4th quarter. Just excellent, well-executed, gutty basketball. Just when it looked like the Bulls were dead in the water, they’d rip off a 6-0 run. Then the Celtics would go on an 8-0 run. Then Chicago would match with an 8-0 run of their own. Fun basketball. Imagine that, an Eastern Conference Playoff game that was high scoring AND fun.
  • As if we needed any further proof that Kevin Harlan belongs in the pantheon of NBA announcers, he excitedly called Ben Gordon “a flamethrower” after a deep three pointer late in the 4th quarter. Kev is the best. And I bet you forgot that Ben Gordon had a cup of coffee as one of the more explosive perimeter scorers in the NBA. I certainly did. He got shots up quickly and he wasn’t shy.
  • It wasn’t Bird/Dominique in 1988, but the Ben Gordon and Ray Allen duel in Game 2 and the series was spectacular. In the last minute of the game Gordon and Allen went for back to back to back to back buckets, which was culminated by an Allen three-pointer over Noah with two seconds left. Exactly what you’d expect from Allen, but Gordon was a huge surprise in retrospect. I forgot how good he was. If you watch that game in its entirety you’d be shocked that he’s now getting only 15 minutes per game with the Orlando Magic.
  • Sorry I spoiled it for you, but Ray Allen buried a dagger three with two seconds left to win the game for the Celtics. Without a timeout left Chicago had to resort to a three-quarter-court heave at the buzzer. It didn’t go well. At the conclusion Shipping Up To Boston starts playing and the cameras catch a glimpse of Kevin Garnett yelling something that includes the phrase “Motherf*****.” Check out the clip to see if you could decipher what he says.[youtube][/youtube]

My best guess is “Who is this Linton Johnson motherf*****,” but I wouldn’t swear to it. Anyway, check back next week for another trip down memory lane.

If you’d like to watch the game in its entirety, you can do so by clicking here.

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