Honestly, are there any luckier sports fans anywhere than Boston and Chicago right now? When it comes to getting all you can get out of a basketball game, fans in these two cities are getting their money's worth and then some.
I grew up during the glory days of the NBA. Once upon a time in the NBA there was The East and The West and that was pretty much it. Each coast had their own style of play. The West was known for it's faced paced, run and gun, offense oriented play. They were the harbingers of Fast Break, Showtime Basketball.
The East was seen as the blue collar laborers. East Coast Basketball was a full contact sport and play resembled rugby at times. Battles between the big men in the pivot and hard charging guards that took the ball to the hole in a crowd were hallmarks of Blue Collar Ball. Coming into the lane meant risking life and limb. Posterized often led to pulverized. There were three skins colors... black, white and black and blue.
The first round series between The Boston Celtics and the Chicago Bulls is reminiscent of those heady days of basketbrawl. These teams are waging an epic, blue collar basketball battle on the NBA courts and it is something to behold. Anyone who loves basketball is getting to see a series that offers everything a great playoff scenario could possibly offer; Aging champions struggling against upcoming youth; A team with a litany of injuries and misfortune facing a team with an abundance of good karma and good fortune; Youthful exuberance and effort going head-to-head with old time savvy and experience.
Three out of five games in this series have gone into overtime; One into double overtime. Both teams have lost at home. Other than one blow out by the Celtics every game has been as tightly contested as any NBA game gets. I don't think these guys have been separated by more than 5 points for longer than a minute in any game except game 3. It's all-out no-holds-barred basketball.
This is blue collar basketball at its finest. I haven't seen this great an example of clean, hard-nosed, physical basketball since the days of the old timer Celtics, Detroit and Philly teams. Guys are getting slammed going in both directions. No rebound opportunity has been ignored. Guys are diving and hitting the floor in pursuit of loose balls. You can almost hear the punches landing as the teams collide.
The Celtics started the season as defending champions. They certainly played like champions. They opened the season with a 19 game win streak. They added another 13 game streak later. They had ups and downs but were on pace to match last year's effort. But those small intangible and uncontrollable events that plague any team at any time took their usual toll. The Big Three proved as human as anyone and the injuries have been a big factor down the stretch. Their timing didn't help either.
The Celtics are doing their best in the face of some overwhelming misfortune. It's not an excuse... But it's certainly one reason they have come up short in their bid for a repeat. Their misfortunes have been classic examples of the very reasons that most teams don't repeat. Much of getting to the finals is experience and almost as much is sheer luck.
Injuries, trades... Outside influences that are beyond a team's players and coaches control. They all usually manifest themselves somewhere along what is a very long road when it comes to repeating.
And while the old guys keep holding their own, young teams get better, that's to be expected. But sometimes they get a lot better than expected... a lot sooner too. The Bulls aren't a fluke here. This is not just a lucky game or because the Celtics aren't trying. The Bulls are damn good.
Coming in, everyone knew the Bulls would have to bring their 'A' game in order to have a shot. Well they brought their 'A' game and an 'A+' effort or two as well. They have slugged it out for 5 games and are in a virtual draw as far as points. It's just the order the points have been tallied that is the difference between either team being up or down or even eliminated.
These guys are putting their bodies on the line. They are each working hard and getting breaks. It's who gets the last break that will most likely determine who will win this series. I'm almost rooting for the Bulls. Losing to them would be an unexpected end but not an embarrassing one. The Celtics have a strong franchise and they have another year or two of competitive ball ahead of them. The Celtics will survive the loss.
But to the Bulls, the series win would be a huge boost. It's the kind of win that careers are sparked from. It's been the sort of season teams are molded by; One where an individual and organizations focus and attitudes are adjusted. The kind of playoff where players who get involved, finally see what it's all about.
The Bulls have made some changes. Late season trades have pushed them to a level that is belied by their record. They are no match for the Celtics on paper. Unfortunately for the Celtics, the games aren't being played on paper. No one told the Bulls they were over-matched. They obviously didn't get the memo and came to this meeting prepared to fight for their right to move ahead... not move aside.
The refs have been duly maligned by all fans and media pundits everywhere. Coaches are lobbying for that psychological edge. Fines and ejections have had their place. Good calls and bad calls and no calls at all have occurred at the odd and random moments. Big shots and big misses. But the refs haven't exceeded any level that one can blame a game on one call or one play. No team will be able to blame their victory or losses on the refs.
Regardless of who wins, one thing is for sure. The fans will be the biggest winners here. They won't see a series as hard fought on equally matched as this one for a long time to come. This is a hell of a series that should make for some great moments for any basketball fan.