This wasn’t Derrick Rose and Kirk Hinrich Tuesday who combined for 69 points, including 27 of the team’s 34 in the fourth quarter, to beat the Boston Celtics 101-93 before a raucous, playoff like crowd at the United Center.
No, it was more like Walt Frazier and Earl Monroe. Like Gail Goodrich and Jerry West. Like Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars. Like Bob Cousy and Sam Jones.
This was a backcourt duo for the ages as the Bulls now will make the playoffs if they defeat Charlotte Wednesday or if the Toronto Raptors lose to the Knicks.
“We’re just having trust and confidence in one another and we’ve been playing good basketball,” said Rose, who scored a career high 39 points and drove All Star and top defender Rajon Rondo from the game late. “It was one of those days. Some days it’s a whole bunch of turnovers. It was one of those days I hit almost everything. It’s my teammates who give me the confidence. I love playing here and being in tough situations, which makes me go out and perform. Kirk was huge knocking down shots, stepping up and making big plays. He’s one of our leaders. Everyone, the younger guys, look up to him.”
And the Bulls are a game from not having to look up at the eight playoff teams. Their destiny, as it were, is in their hands again after a second playoff style effort in which they outworked a Boston team playing its regulars with Paul Pierce with 28 points and Ray Allen with 25.
The Celtics now fall to fourth in the Eastern Conference and are likely to open the playoffs against the hot Miami Heat and potentially face Cleveland in the second round. The Celtics were hoping to avoid both, so it was no late season, Cavs like team.
But the Bulls dominated the boards 49-40 with Joakim Noah with nine points, 16 rebounds and three blocks (Rose was all over the place and also had three blocks) and Luol Deng with seven points and 12 rebounds. The Bulls committed just eight turnovers and shot 56.4 percent after halftime with Hinrich and Rose combining to shoot 26 for 42 overall.
With Boston relentlessly closing to within 90-86 with 1:48 left, Hinrich knocked in a big three from on top, sending the Celtics into a timeout and Noah running to Hinrich and rubbing his head.
“I don’t play with his pony tail when he make shots,” joked Hinrich. “He should leave my hair alone.”
Pierce then drove and was fouled for a pair of free throws. The Celtics cut off Rose and he found Hinrich in the left corner. Nate Robinson, who’d replaced Rondo with six minutes left, flew by Hinrich. Hinrich coolly stepped in for a 17 footer and 95-88 lead.
Allen then missed. Kevin Garnett got the ball, but Hinrich ripped it away and got it to Rose who ran ahead for what looked to be his second spectacular dunk of the game.
Earlier, Rose had a reverse two handed over the head tomahawk on a breakaway that would have had Stacey King making another commercial if the game wasn’t on TNT nationally.
“I’ve been planning that one for about three months,” Rose admitted. “I didn’t have the opportunity. I got it and tried. I did it to try and help my teammates get the edge. We’re playing in our building and the crowd likes to see exciting plays, so why not try.”
So on the way to another one of those—Rose said he was planning a one handed jam with his arm cocked back—his leg gave out and he was just able to get the ball over the rim and in to essentially end the game with the Bulls ahead 97-88 with 26.6 seconds left.
“I was happy I made it,” said Rose. “Or I would have been on TV somewhere with everyone making fun of me.”
The Celtics weren’t laughing, falling to 50-31 after giving it their best shot with the starters all playing big minutes and Garnett a reasonable 28.
“You saw Derrick Rose, you saw Kirk Hinrich. They really caught fire,” said Pierce. “That’s pretty much what it was. Those are the two leaders, the two scorers. They stepped up when it was needed.”
It should have been a heck of an uplifting night, and it was, especially in the wake of the equally big win in Toronto Sunday.
But just prior to the game YahooSports published a story detailing an altercation between executive vice president John Paxson and coach Vinny Del Negro, allegedly over Noah’s limited minutes schedule from his plantar fasciitis.
That line of questioning occupied much of the post game discussion, though it didn’t seem to bother the players much.
I get the feeling they have seen this before and know management and Del Negro have been an odds and no one will be surprised if Del Negro is relieved of his duties after this season.
The Bulls officially responded it was “an organizational issue” and it would be handled internally.
Though I write on the Bulls web site, that’s really all they tell me as well.
But players generally don’t worry about what they say and seemed pretty buoyant about the results of the game and even the line of questioning.
“Honestly, I didn’t hear anything about it,” said Deng, smiling. “I don’t think it’s affecting us at all. There’s always going to be news and that’s great for you (media) guys. It’s something to write about us.
“How did you hear about that?” Deng asked. “I stay away from all that. I’m sure those guys will solve it. It’s nothing more than guys being competitive. I’m sure it happens more in this league. I don’t think every team has snitches like we do.
“What happened, happened,” said Deng with a shrug.
So what did happen?
I’d heard some stuff about a dispute, but didn’t think much of it as there have been plenty over the years. Scott Skiles and Paxson used to have them. Jerry Krause had them all the time with Doug Collins and later Phil Jackson.
But I guess this got a bit physical, though it sounded a bit like one of those pushing scenes you sometimes see on the court when guys look like they want to fight but don’t.
I wish it wouldn’t have happened as I like Paxson and I like Vinny.
And they both were pretty fiery players in their time.
There’s obviously been some uneasiness throughout Del Negro’s tenure with rumors he’d be fired when the Bulls were nine games under .500 last year. Then after those blowout losses and 35-point lead lost to the Kings in December, there was a spate of national stories Vinny was to be fired any day. He obviously wasn’t, though he wanted a vote of confidence from management and mostly those are stupid as coaches generally get fired right after them. So management didn’t say much other than he was the coach.
Then Noah’s plantar fasciitis began to become serious and he had to stop playing. Noah went out Feb. 5 and missed seven games and the All Star break.
The medical opinion, as is known with plantar fasciitis, is you have to be careful and work back slowly or you can go back to ground zero and have to start over again.
So Noah was put on a very limited schedule. The next three games he played seven, 12 and seven minutes with his limitation increasing to 15 to 20 minutes.
Then came the Feb. 26 game with Portland with the Bulls facing a tough month in March. The Bulls were up to 30-27 and Vinny sensed some momentum he wanted to keep going. The Bulls got into a tough game with Portland and Noah came off the bench and was huge. Vinny got greedy going for the win in the overtime game and played Noah 27 minutes, almost double his time.
The next day was a disaster as Noah had that huge setback and was ordered out by the doctors at least three weeks, or 10 games.
The Bulls without Noah lost them all.
Things were edgy with Del Negro after that as Noah came back to a schedule of increasing minutes. By March 30 it was up to 25 minutes and the Bulls were monitoring it closely feeling they still had a shot at the playoffs if they could keep Noah playing.
So here were the Bulls again in a tough game against a good team, and Vinny’s former team, the Suns. Vinny went two minutes over with 27.
It didn’t seem like much, but he had been instructed.
I heard various versions of the story and only one staffer and no coach was witness. As far as I can tell, Paxson loudly challenged Del Negro about going over the limit again. These kinds of post game discussions are frequent, and I know even mild mannered Steve Kerr said one he had early with Mike D’Antoni led to bad feeling and D’Antoni’s eventual departure.
Now all of this stuff is subject to he said/she said as there really were no witnesses.
So supposedly Del Negro got up from his chair to come at Paxson. Or Del Negro got up and Paxson got in his face and pushed him. Paxson supposedly challenged Vinny. I also heard that Vinny welcomed it and said something like c’mon. I really don’t know whom to believe and what happened and didn’t talk to either Vinny or Paxson about it.
Here was Vinny after the game:
“All those things are internal. I have no comment. Whatever happens between the organization and myself…is internal. I focus on what I can control, preparation for the game and getting players ready. We’ve been battling a lot of adversity all season. Guys stayed together, showed great character and kept on fighting for eachother. I go about my job every day no matter what happens. I’m a competitor and love competing and the challenge and all the other things that happen stay internal.
“Of course (I wish it would not come out). That’s the NBA and things happen, practice or different situations things are going to come out. It’s part of the deal. You handle it and move forward and show leadership toward the team and go about your business. Things happen. There’s a lot of emotion involved in this game. A lot of things happen on a daily basis.
“The focus is on the game. I don’t waste my time with that stuff. I focus on the playoffs and getting ready to play. Now, we’ll focus on Charlotte. All that other stuff is irrelevant.”
Del Negro said the dispute didn’t enter into his thinking at all regarding not playing Noah but 12 seconds in the New Jersey overtime game. He credited the team doctor, Brian Cole, and trainer Fred Tedeschi with getting Noah ready to play at the level he’s at now (46 minutes Tuesday) and acknowledged sometimes with a competitor like Noah you have to protect him from himself and Del Negro said he feels “we’ve handled that right.”
I can see both sides. Vinny, like all coaches, works essentially day to day, and he was likely trying to sneak out a few minutes here and there for a win and hoping no one would notice. Noah having the relapse was a disaster. The Bulls view Noah, as we’ve seen from extraordinary performances of late, as a key part of their future and don’t want to risk injury and felt they knew best how to use him to push for the playoffs. Del Negro apparently saw it differently in trying to pile up wins when he could.
Not one person I spoke with said anything about anyone being punched or there being a fight. There seemed to be a lot of yelling, though it didn’t seem to faze Rose.
“What happened?” said Rose in a veteran response.
“I never heard about it. If it did happen it slipped past me,” he said. “I really don’t watch that stuff. When are around us, they’re always kidding around, joking around, talking. I guess they’re doing it behind closed doors. When they’re around us, they’re professionals.”
Noah was a bit annoyed, though made the point that whomever was leaking the story was more trying to distract the Bulls and perhaps cost them a playoff chance. Maybe it was Jay Triano.
“I think that that’s none of your guys’ business,” said Noah. “Things happen in a team and an organization. But that has nothing to do with you guys. We deserve not to have these problems talked about right now. We’re fighting as players. We’re giving everything we got. I don’t think it’s fair for us as players to be talking about that stuff. It’s nothing. Really, it’s nothing.”
And it did take away from a brilliant Bulls game in which they outworked and were tougher than the Boston bullies.
Garnett screamed obscenities, as he generally does, and Kendrick Perkins lumbered around yelling at everyone, even drawing a technical foul after he was awarded a three point play. It’s not just age now for the Celtics as they added Rasheed Wallace and Nate Robinson and when you start to add dogs you can find fleas. Too big Glen “Baby” Davis wallowed around and got a few shots blocked as he leads the league by far in that dubious category and classy guys like Ray Allen and Doc Rivers have to be wondering what the heck is going on.
It was a brutal start with the Celtics ahead 20-17 after one as the Bulls shot 28 percent from the field and 28.6 percent on free throws. It was not looking good.
The Bulls got it going in the second quarter with Hinrich on the way to his season high finding his shooting almost unerring.
“I feel I’m doing a better job of staying in the flow of the offense,” said Hinrich. “There are stretches of the game I don’t feel like I’m getting opportunities, but I’ve stayed patient. Derrick’s been drawing so much attention I’m getting good opportunities and have been able to knock down some shots.”
Quietly, Hinrich has three games of at least 23 in the last six games.
The Bulls went ahead 37-29, but Garnett and Pierce combined on a late surge to bring Boston within 44-41 at halftime.
The Celtics looked like they were taking control behind Pierce, going ahead 57-50. But Noah hit a jumper and a hard drive faking Garnett and going over Perkins and responding to the three-point chance with a bold fist pump. He was again bringing the life back to the Bulls.
“The intensity was there,” said Hinrich. “We knew we had to win in Toronto. We had to win tonight. Our mindset was refuse to lose.”
Still, the Celtics held on 68-67 after three.
Yes, it was winning time, and it went to the Bulls this time.
The Bulls opened the fourth with six straight, the last two on a Brad Miller miss that Rasheed Wallace grabbed and somehow pushed back into the basket that got a good laugh except on the Celtics bench. Miller then got a layup on a pass from Jannero Pargo, and then they turned it over to Rose and Hinrich, who were absolutely brilliant.
Rondo is one of the league’s best perimeter defenders and a likely first or second team all-defensive player. Rose made him look silly and Rivers had to bench him.
Like all teams, the Celtics were doubling, leaving a man behind the primary defender to put up a wall, trapping on occasion. Nothing worked as Rose got anywhere he wanted and made jump shots, tear drops, leaners, layups and when he didn’t Hinrich was there for a pair of threes down the stretch, the Bulls with the Celtics answering almost every time scoring in their last seven possessions and nine of their last 11.
Yes, and this is a pretty good Celtics defensive team, if not the one of a few years ago, and Garnett played down the stretch.
“It’s a tough back to back,” said Hinrich of Game 82. “We’ve got one game to determine our fate.”
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