On the John
Writing it right—the tale of Game 6
Originally completed May 1, 2009
In the fabulously direct words of Bluto Blutarsky:
(I mean, seriously, is there any other way to begin this column?)
And speaking of beginnings, where to? To Ray Allen dropping 51 on a postseason record-tying nine treys? To Captain Kirk showing a never-before-seen rage, balling his fists and squaring up against the suddenly Laimbeerian Rondo? To Johnny Fishsticks flashing an “I’m dropping 40 tonight” grin after hitting his third three of the game’s first six minutes? To Allen and Eddie House each knocking down deuces that would have been game-tying triples had their toes been back just a touch? To Brad Miller redeeming his Game 5 layup/free-throw brick tandem by scoring the team’s final five of regulation and last two points of the second and third overtimes? To Boston’s entire starting frontcourt fouling out, and Ben Gordon as well? To Joakim Noah high-fiving every first-row fan after the game’s wild conclusion? To Salmons hitting a layup that bounced off the bottom of the rim before trickling up? To the Bulls blowing a 12-point lead in the 4th, followed by Boston blowing an eight-point lead…in the 4th? To Allen’s game-tying trey at the end of the second OT? To the Bulls’ failure to even get a shot off with 7.6 seconds remaining following that Allen three-pointer? To Derrick Rose’s game (almost) securing block on Rondo?
Yeah…that was all great.
But in telling the story of Game 6, in capturing the collective incredibleness of these first six games, there is only one starting point: Noah’s improbably coordinated steal, drive, and dunk (and foul shot) that broke the 123-123 tie with 35 seconds to play.
Just before Noah’s steal, I was actually getting bored. Crazy, I know, particularly in light of that thick paragraph above. But when you’ve already watched 322 minutes of playoff basketball over six games and you’re in the midst of a 7th overtime period…when you’ve already seen a rookie point guard post a 36-11 in his playoff debut, a pair of UConn guards in a 72-point shoot out, and a non-flagrant foul call leading to an airballed layup and a pair of missed freebies…well, when you’ve seen all that, even the most remarkable of occurrences can seem dull and predictable.
The fourth quarter? Up to snuff, for a while: the Bulls’ 12 point and then 10 point lead vanishing in the midst of Boston’s unfathomable 18-0 run, followed by the boys in white and red storming back from down 8 to tie. But since we were already wondering if another overtime was in the cards, and since we reached that overtime by both Pierce and Gordon missing game-winning jumpers…well, it seemed a might forced, a basketball deux ex machina for the ages.
We experience sports like a story. The better the storytelling, the better the experience. And with overtime preserved only through both Pierce and Gordon missing, the sports screenwriting down the stretch was getting sloppy. That carelessness continued at the end of the first OT, with Pierce missing another potential game-winner, and then once more with the fabled Triple Overtime Playoff Game in reach, the sharpshooter Allen stroking a three to tie followed by the worst of plot contrivances: the Bulls failing to even hoist a game-winning attempt, the extra session ending with Miller and Salmons scrambling unsuccessfully for the ball like Rocky trying to wrangle the chicken. They always say “you couldn’t have written it any better.” Well this time, you couldn’t have written it any worse.
Overtimes aren’t fun just because they are overtimes. They’re fun because of the drama. As I watched at Northside Bar and Grill, my favorite burger and beer joint in the neighborhood, that drama was dying.
At least we’ve got a crowd, though, I kept thinking. Earlier this month, I’d headed to Northside to see the Bulls beat the Sixers. It was a crucial, end of the season game. To my surprise, mine were the only eyes on the screen. Now the place was packed, the whole joint rocking and rolling with every shot.
Much of the crowd had, seemingly, just come from work. Collared shirts, slacks, and briefcases abounded. Still, these guys were ready to root. One dude even brought a red SCOTTIE PIPPEN jersey with him, hanging it on the wall ledge next to his table, grabbing at it for good luck throughout the game. When the commercial break between Overtimes Two and Three was ending, dude to my left suddenly snapped into a New Seriousness, snatching the jersey off the wall and putting it on over his blue pinstriped button-down.
I looked at the TV just before tip-off. It had been a physical series, but holy hell…are Salmons and Pierce elbowing each other before the tip? They surely were, and the crowd at Northside was just as amped—on either side of the TV I was eyeing, the Blackhawks were battling in Game 1 of their series, while the Cubs were playing the Marlins at Wrigley. They may as well have been televising Heidi.
There we all were—Salmons, Rose, and Hinrich; Pierce, Allen, and Rondo; the UC crowd; the gang at Northside; all of us locked in to this overtime-crazed best-of-seven with a tie game at 118.
A jumper from Rose. Bulls up two. A three-point play from Big Baby. Celts up one. Another jumper from Rose. Bulls back up, followed by the Captain splitting a pair from the line and the Jesus knocking down a deuce to tie it once more. The clock under two minutes now. The teams trading possessions. Nuhtin’ for us, nuhtin’ for them. Timeout Bulls. Minute fifteen. Waiting. Waiting. Rolled up sleeves all around at Northside, the billiards game at a halt, the wait staff no longer waiting, the dude in PIPPEN 33 bouncing, the city of Chicago holding its breath, all of us standing. And then…
A Rose miss with 56 seconds left, Rondo with the board, the New Little Irritant bringing it up. Over to Big Baby—under 50 seconds now—and then Davis a handoff to Pierce coming around a screen to his left, Northside hopping. Pierce a step ahead of his man Salmons as he drives to the free throw line, and then spotting Scalabrine in the corner open for three. Pierce firing a pass, but Noah has hustled over and shoots his long fingers in front of Pierce’s ill-fated throw.
Now Noah is running, and here’s where things got crazy. Had it been Rose on the break, we’d’ve all been amped, waiting for the layup. But now, with big, goofy Joakim on the move and his ponytail swinging, I found myself in the throes of, like, eight separate emotions. I wanted Noah to score, but because it was Noah and not Rose or Gordon or Hinrich or Salmons or Anthony freaking Roberson, the excitement of an otherwise gimme-fast break was mitigated by the tension of Noah possibly dribbling off his foot or tumbling over or getting his layup blocked from behind. There was the amazing thrill of watching Noah outrun Pierce, but since he had Salmons trailing, a part of me was hoping that Noah would dump it off to his more fleet-footed teammate. Now the mystery was building as to whether or not Noah would dish. And of course there was the innate comedy involved—had this been the first quarter of a November game rather than the third overtime of Game 6, the UC would have been in cheerful stitches as ol’ Noah lumbered down the floor, something like the basketball version of Keith Traylor’s interception in 2001.
But Noah did not pass, and he did not trip, and just as we were finally convinced that things would work out with a hard Pierce foul and a pair of Noah free throws, the basketball player basketball fans love to hate rose up and threw down a spectacular fast break dunk, the only exclamation point this game truly deserved.
“He got it! He got it! Holy shit! Noah got it!” The United Center was shaking. Noah was screaming. Northside was jumping. Pierce was disgusted (and gone, with his sixth foul). I looked at the baseball game, where I was surprised to notice that the Cubs were now tied in the top of the tenth. Not that anyone was watching. Certainly not PIPPEN, who was now scooting around the bar and high-fiving every fan in sight. “The steal and the drive and the dunk!” he shouted to me. “Just like Pippen! Just like Pippen!” Noah knocked down the free throw and the Bulls led by three.
Naturally, things weren’t over. We still had House’s toe-tipping two-pointer, a pair of free throws from Miller, a Rondo bucket, Kirk’s bricked layup with Rondo’s possible goal-tend, Rose’s game-saving block, Rose’s game-resurrecting missed free throws, and Rondo’s desperation three. But so what? Joakim Noah streaking down the court, his hair behind him and the dunk ahead. I know a perfect ending when I see one.
Copyright 2009, jm silverstein
Take a trip back to Game 5 of the Bulls-Wizards series with Bear Down and Get Some Runs (scroll down to “May 4, 2005″)
Other recent Bulls-related stories from readjack.com:
APRIL 20TH: Breaking through a wall of fools
APRIL 14TH: It rains sunshine and glory in my hometown
MARCH 25TH: Appreciating Captain Kirk
MARCH 18TH: Appreciating Johnny Fishsticks (a story on John Salmons)
MARCH 15TH: Appreciating Derrick Rose
MARCH 10TH: In a flash, he’s gone (Dwyane Wade buries the Bulls)
AUGUST 11TH, 2008: Signing your life away (Chris Duhon leaves for the Knicks)
And, because you deserve it…