Rondo’s ‘hard foul’ gives Boston a 3-2 lead

By Stephen Alford
Updated: April 29, 2009

2009 NBA Playoffs

BOSTON — The Boston Celtics will try to eliminate the Chicago Bulls Thursday night at United Center in Game Six of the opening round of the NBA Playoffs.

Clinging to a 3-2 advantage in an extremely physical series, Boston hopes to put the series to an end in the Windy City so that their bodies can get some much needed rest.

The Bulls will have other ideas in mind.

After losing the Game Five basketbrawl game in overtime (106-104) at the Garden on Tuesday, look for the Bulls to try to be just as physical as the Cs, and dish out what they claim has been received since the start of the series.

“We didn’t convert in the 4th quarter the way I would have liked, but I like Ben Gordon hopping around out there as best he could and John Salmons fighting through it,” said Chicago coach Vinnie Del Negro following Game 5.

“Kirk [Hinrich] with stitches, Brad [Miller]‘s got stitches, the guys fought and that’s a great sign for us. We just have to be a little bit more efficient at the end of games and especially in the overtime.”

Del Negro was referring to John Salmons battling a nagging groin injury since the series started. Ben Gordon was allegedly a “game-time decision” with a sore hamstring.

After struggling from the field in the first half (2-for-11), Gordon ended the game shooting 6-for-21 from the field and 3-for-10 from beyond the arc for a team-high 26 points (11-for-12 from the charity stripe).

“Yeah, I wasn’t worried about Ben Gordon being hurt,” said Celtics coach Doc Rivers following the Celtics victory. “I’ve seen that act before. And he was terrific. You know, he made some unbelievable shots.”

“And honestly some of them were very well defended, and we’ll take some of those shots. And if he makes them, he makes them. But overall he didn’t look injured to me.”

Kirk Hinrich got stitches over one of his eyes during halftime, and as a result, he missed most of the 3rd quarter and was not a factor at all in fourth quarter and overtime.

Brad Miller got the worst of them all after being on the receiving end of what Doc Rivers termed “a hard playoff foul” from Rajon Rondo in the closing seconds of overtime with Boston clinging to a 106-104 lead.

That “hard playoff foul” required several stitches as Miller suffered a bloody mouth after Rondo smacked him while “going for the ball” during what would have been a game-tying layup by Miller.

Instead a woozy Miller went to the free throw line and missed the front end of the attempt. He missed the backend on purpose but got called for a shooter’s violation for not making contact with the rim .

“You have to go for the basketball and [Rondo] didn’t come near the basketball,” said Del Negro. ” He came right across his face so the ball was extended, it was out, and he came right across.”

“I thought it was a flagrant, and I thought it was a physical call. I agree that it is a playoff foul, but you still have to call it, and I’m sure that will be addressed and they’ll take a look at it.”

Celtics coach Doc Rivers saw it another way: “…it was a great foul by Rondo. You always talk about playoff basketball. No lay-ups. Rondo did it on the very last play and it won the game for us.”

“I was going for the ball,” said Rondo, “But Miller, I don’t know, he’s probably 290, maybe more than that. I’m a little guy, so I had to go for the foul hard. I wasn’t trying to take a guy out or hit his head. But I think he took it up in his right hand and I tried to make sure he couldn’t finish.”

“I may have hit him in the head, but I went through his arm first, trying to get to the ball and make sure he couldn’t get a 2-point shot up. I’m not a dirty player. I’m just coming out there and trying to give him a hard foul, nothing flagrant.”

“I understand hard fouls. But when you get hit in the mouth over the shoulders, that stuff just gets old after a while,” said Miller, who finished the game with only five points and four rebounds in 18 minutes of action.

“We’ve got another game. We’ll strap it on and see what happens.”

Celtics center Kendrick Perkins, who scored 16 points, grabbed a game-high 19 rebounds and blocked seven shots without committing one foul, agreed that it was a hard playoff foul, but then added that the refs missed some hard fouls committed by the Bulls as well so it balanced out.

Look for the Bulls to try to match Boston’s physical play in Game 6. But they must also find a way to contain Paul Pierce, who ate Salmons for dinner in the second half and overtime, scoring 19 of his 26 points in that time span.

Salmons attempted to play one-on-one defense on Pierce and the Truth responded by getting to his sweet spot time after time and nailing all three of his shot attempts in overtime, which were all at least 16 feet from the basket.

Del Negro will most likely send double-teams Pierce’s way Thursday night.

” Yeah, I thought about doubling him a lot,” admitted Del Negro. “But the problem is that the Celtics do such a good job – it’s like a 1-4 flat – and he fades away. And he’s 6-8 and it’s his spot. But we talked about coming with different players, but they’ve picked us apart a little bit with that on the glass, and he hits some tough fadeaway shots with hands in his face.”

“That’s what great players do, they make big plays. That’s something we’ll talk about again. But we’ve come with double teams, we’ve come with single teams, we’ve come off bigs, we’ve come off littles, and he’s seen it all. He’s an All-Star player for a reason, so it’s a tough set and we just have to fight through.”

“…the shots he made down the stretch were huge,” said Doc Rivers. “Paul was phenomenal.”

Just as phenomenal was Rajon Rondo, who just missed posting his third triple-double of the series by two rebounds. He finished the game with a game-high 28 points, shooting an efficient 12-for-22 from the field and a surprising 2-for-2 from beyond the arc. He also contributed a game-high 11 assists and eight rebounds.

But it was the “hard playoff foul” that proved to be the game winner.

“He’s mentally tough,” said Rivers when asked about Rondo. “The kid’s – he’s just a mentally tough kid. Him, Paul, down the stretch, they just gritted it. I mean, (Rondo) drove with the intentions of, ‘I’m going to score, or you’re going to foul me. That’s the speed and the power.”

“When you see Rondo you don’t see power. But his speed becomes powerful. That’s why he was so tough to guard. And they laid off of him. And then you had Paul, and he knew that. He knew with Ray off the floor. “

“He knew we had gone small. We had Tony (Allen) for defensive purposes and Steph (Marbury) for defensive purposes. Wasn’t a lot of offense on the floor, and Paul and Rondo both understood that.”

Rondo has clearly outplayed newly crowned Rookie of the Year Derrick Rose since Rose’s Game One, 36-point effort. Rose posted some decent numbers in Game 5 (14 points, eight rebounds, six assists), but six turnovers from someone who is handling the ball the majority of the time is too much – especially if three of those turnovers were committed in the fourth quarter.

Those mistakes make it tough to get a victory over a veteran team like Boston.

Celtics Nation is hopeful that their Gang Green will come out with the same intensity that they displayed in Game Three when they whipped the Bulls 107-86.

However, I don’t expect the Bulls to roll over and accept defeat like the Detroit Pistons did. Expect the Bulls, especially Ben Gordon, to go down shooting – if they do go down at all in Game Six.