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Paul Pierce gets tied up for a critical late-game jump ball.BOSTON -- The Boston Celtics were left kicking themselves after Friday's overtime loss to the Chicago Bulls. Yes, the visitors stepped up and made big shots at critical moments, but Boston gave them the opportunities by failing to slam the door.
No play will be scrutinized more than the jump ball the Bulls generated in the final seconds of regulation. Here's how it played out:
The Celtics were up 88-86 with 12.1 seconds to play in the fourth quarter and were inbounding near the Bulls' bench after a timeout. Rajon Rondo, one of the team's poorer free throw shooters, was the inbounder with Chicago's Joakim Noah defending (his length helped take away some potential passing lanes). The Bulls essentially doubled Kevin Garnett at the free throw line, forcing Rondo to pick between Jason Terry streaking into the backcourt or Paul Pierce coming over from the wing.
With Marquis Teague cheating a few steps toward halfcourt -- and Noah alertly shuffling to his left to force the action to the sideline -- Rondo made what seemed like a safer pass to Pierce. Instead, Pierce was immediately trapped by Jimmy Butler and Noah, who shuffled a couple of steps over from defending the inbounds to force a jump ball with 9.4 seconds to play.
You can make a case that Pierce was fouled, but the referees let them fight for the ball and Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau emphatically pumped his fist when the jump ball was signaled.
“I think it could have went either way," Pierce said. "I thought I was fouled on that. I came out with a busted lip, but the ref didn’t see it that way. It was definitely a huge play of the game. We went out and we got the lead, all we had to do was just get the ball in, maybe get a better position where we could get fouled. Then we wouldn’t be talking about the loss tonight.”
For his part, Butler said, "Me and Jo just trapped, don’t foul, if he shows the ball, grab it ... and that’s what Jo did."
"We executed it perfectly," Noah said. "We wanted to catch it in the corner and it was a good trap and we were able to get a jump ball. It was a huge play and I think that the basketball gods were definitely on our side."
Rondo could be seen turning to the nearest official trying to signal for a timeout as Pierce attempted to swing away from the defenders, but Rondo's signal came a split second before the whistle blew.
Asked if he thought he got the timeout in time, Rondo said, "It doesn't matter what I think, you know? They called a jump ball."
Terry appeared to have broken free in the backcourt, but it would have been a risky pass trying to throw over Noah with the speedy Teague lingering. Terry said he hadn't seen a replay and reserved judgment on how open he was in the backcourt.
Rivers said he had warned his team about the trap, but noted there was some contact in the battle for the ball.
"I told our guys in the timeout, ‘They’re going to trap.’ Even on the play before that, I just said, ‘Guys, they’re going to trap. They never foul right away; they’re going to trap and then foul,'" Rivers said. "I thought they did do a little bit of both. And I thought Rondo actually called a timeout before [the jump ball] was called as well. If you watch the replay, Rondo was right in front of Marc Davis and did the timeout signal, and then the [jump ball] was called."
Rivers said his team put itself in a tough spot.
"We’ve got to expect that -- and not from the refs -- I’m talking about ourselves," Rivers said. "We talked about it, you knew they were going to trap, and you’ve just got to do whatever you can not to get tied up."
Not only did Pierce get tied up, but -- after Noah won the tip -- Kirk Hinrich hit a 15-foot jumper with 2 seconds to go to knot the game. The Celtics simply couldn't put the Bulls away.
"Very difficult, especially at home," Garnett said of the loss. "This game hurt everybody. Good game. I'm sure if you're a fan, you're watching, it was a good game. But overall, yeah, it hurt."