It happens in every single great basketball matchup – one team’s fan base ordains one player on the opposing team as the villain. For Boston Celtics fans, they immediately latched onto the haterade for Joakim Noah at the beginning of what has turned out to be an epic series with the Bulls. It took a few games for Bulls fans to coalesce around a single Celtics villain, though. Last week, my money would have been on Eddie House, who just grates on me on a personal level if only because he kicks out his legs like a buffoon when he takes a jumpshot. However, the events that transpired in games 5 and 6 of this first round series has catapulted Rajon Rondo into an illustrious club of Villains of the Bulls, which includes John Starks, Reggie Miller, James Posey, and, of course, my least favorite athlete of all-time by a landslide margin, Bill Laimbeer. As I mentioned in my post the other day, my respect for Rondo had grown exponentially over the first four games of the series as he led a Celtics team depleted by injuries with the most consistent play of any player on either team. In game 5, though, Rondo was involved in two plays that caused Bulls players to get stitched up, including the controversial hard foul at the end of the game on Brad Miller that many people thought was a flagrant foul. (It wasn’t just Bulls fans – even Charles Barkley, who was the master of hard fouls, immediately thought that it was a flagrant.) Personally, I thought that it was a flagrant foul as it’s defined by the NBA rule book, but there were a whole lot more reasons as to why the Bulls lost that game (i.e. failure to close out the game in regulation with an 11-point lead late in the 4th quarter, letting Paul Pierce prance to the exact same spot on the left side of the free throw line where he apparently can swish jumpshots blindfolded, etc.) and I didn’t think that Rondo had any malicious intent. So, while most Bulls fans seemed comfortable in making Rondo as Chicago’s new Public Enemy Number One after game 5 (and the United Center crowd admirably let him know it by booing him mercilessly every time that he touched the ball in game 6), I still reserved some judgment on the young Boston point guard since I have been so impressed with his overall leadership skills in the series and he appeared to be the quiet and humble type like his opposing counterpart of Derrick Rose.
However, when Rondo tossed Kirk Hinrich into the scorer’s table in game 6, I finally came to the conclusion with the rest of Bulls fans that he’s a straight-out thug. He might be a thug with actual basketball skills like Reggie Miller (and unlike Bill Laimbeer), but he’s still a thug. It was amazing to me that Rondo would do such an idiotic move when ESPN and every sports media outlet in the country had already put him under such intense scrutiny. (It was almost equally amazing by how quick Captain Kirk was ready to throw down.) Congratulations, Rajon Rondo – you’ve guaranteed yourself a lifetime of catcalls every time that you step in the City of Chicago.
As for the series overall, it’s a bit premature to put this in the “greatest series of all-time” category in the annals of NBA history. In just Bulls history alone, is this really a better series than the Bulls-Knicks and Bulls-Pistons battles of the early-90s, or the 1998 Eastern Conference Finals against the Pacers that also went to 7 games? Those were games featuring numerous Hall of Famers on the floor such as Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Patrick Ewing, Isiah Thomas, and Reggie Miller all at full strength. The Celtics’ battles with the Lakers and Pistons in the late-80′s were also all classics with guys like Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabaar, and Larry Bird on the floor in crunch time. So, I’m not going to be so quick to grant this “greatest ever” status since arguably the best player on either team, Kevin Garnett, has been reduced to scowling like Tony Montana on the bench. However, for pure entertainment value, this series is definitely off the charts. I’d compare this to watching five buzzer beater first round NCAA Tournament games(with one blowout mixed in) all in a row – the quality of basketball might not be at a peak level compared to what we might see in, say, a potential Cavs-Lakers NBA Finals, but the back-and-forth nature of the games keeps you fixated at the edge of your seat. So, if you’re a casual sports fan that wants to see intense games that go down to the wire, this series has been a boon. At this point, I have no clue what’s going to happen in game 7. I seriously didn’t believe that there could possibly be another overtime game after game 5, yet game 6 ended up giving basketball fans three overtime periods. (Joakim Noah’s steal and dunk (in the process posterizing and fouling out Paul Pierce) and Derrick Rose’s block on Rondo in the third overtime of game 6 are easily the most memorable Bulls moments in the post-MJ era.) Chances are that game 7 is going to be just entertaining – I can’t imagine it being any other way after how everything has gone up to this point. (One bit of advice to Vinny Del Negro: when the Bulls have the last possession in regulation or overtime to win or tie the game, GET THE BALL IN DERRICK ROSE’S HANDS FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THINGS HOLY!!! That is all.) Enjoy the weekend and GO BULLS!!!
(Image from Chicago Tribune)