Friday, October 30, 2009
So we meet again
By Chris Forsberg ESPNBoston.com
Where did the Celtics-Bulls first-round playoff series last season rank among the greatest playoff series of all time? Don't bother asking Rasheed Wallace.
"I didn't even watch it, man," Wallace said Wednesday night after the Celtics' 92-59 triumph over the Bobcats. "I don't watch basketball. Honestly, in the playoffs, I don't watch other teams; it's not exciting. It's more exciting to be a part of it. I read about it in the papers. Just about how the Bulls took [the Celtics] to the homestretch."
Paul Pierce let out a sigh of relief after the Celtics hung on to beat the Bulls in Game 7 of a memorable first-round playoff series this past spring.
Wallace wasn't the only one in the Celtics' locker room at that moment who couldn't deliver any insight on the series. Across the way, offseason acquisitions Marquis Daniels and Shelden Williams could offer only outsiders' perspectives on the epic series that featured four overtime games (seven overtimes overall), 65 ties, more than 120 lead changes and five games decided by three points or fewer.
Regardless of where the series ranks -- and most agree that it was at least the greatest first-round series in NBA history -- the matchup will have a decidedly different feel Friday night when the Celtics and Bulls meet for the first time this season at the TD Garden.
The additions of Wallace, Daniels and Williams thicken Boston's bench. But that ignores the biggest difference between last season's series and the current matchup: "The Big Ticket."
The Celtics played the entire 2009 postseason without Kevin Garnett, and his return clearly will change the frontcourt dynamic Friday night. It was one thing for 23-year-old Tyrus Thomas and 24-year-old Joakim Noah to be matched up against the likes of Kendrick Perkins and Glen Davis. It'll be another to face a frontcourt of Garnett and Wallace, with 28 years of NBA service between them.
What's more, Garnett, a product of Chicago's Farragut Academy, has dominated the Bulls in recent years. The Celtics are 6-0 against Chicago when Garnett plays.
Garnett has won nine of his past 10 regular-season meetings against Chicago dating back to his days in Minnesota. Since starting his career 1-4 against the Bulls, Garnett has gone 19-3.
Meanwhile, the Bulls' biggest personnel change this offseason was the loss of Ben Gordon, who went to Detroit for five years and $55 million. Gordon averaged a team-best 24.3 points per game during last season's series.
On paper, this matchup can't possibly live up to last season's series. To use a Chicago reference, Friday's game appears a bit like the sequel to "The Blues Brothers." You can't top perfection, particularly when the cast has changed so dramatically.
All that said, don't expect Friday's game to be a complete flop ("Blues Brothers 2000"?). The Bulls reminded the NBA on Thursday that they remain a team on the upswing with a season-opening 92-85 victory over the Spurs at the United Center in Chicago.
The Bulls displayed strong balance with six players in double-figures (reserve center Brad Miller nearly joined that club with nine points). A healthy Luol Deng, who sat out last season's first-round series due to injury, pumped in a team-high 17 points for the Bulls on Thursday night, while Derrick Rose looked sharp with 13 points and seven assists, despite nursing an ankle injury that sidelined him for three weeks in the preseason.
Despite the roster changes, Celtics coach Doc Rivers is expecting an intense meeting Friday night.
"That was a great series, obviously,'' Rivers said. "So, it'll be an interesting game. Whenever you play a team in the playoffs, that first game you play the next year is usually extremely intense.''
If the Celtics underestimated the Bulls last season, at least before Rose erupted for 36 points to pace Chicago to a Game 1 victory, don't expect it to happen again Friday night.
As Paul Pierce told reporters after last season's Game 7 victory: "We really didn't expect them to play the way they did through the whole seven games. We expected them to play hard, but they really pushed us to the limit."
Friday's game might not look promising for Chicago. Particularly since there's no way the Celtics will look past the Bulls this season. But then again, no one gave Chicago a chance last season, and look what happened.
Chris Forsberg is a roving reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.