“Just one game,” I reminded myself with five minutes left. “It was just one game.”
But it felt more important than that. The Bulls didn’t just beat the Celtics; they bullied them. Derrick Rose didn’t just destroy Rajon Rondo and Boston’s defense; he made them seem insignificant. The Celtics didn’t just lose; they got pounded inside and out, thoroughly dominated by the same blueprint that has marked their own four-year run as title contenders. It was fitting that Kyle Korver looks a lot like Ashton Kutcher; his Bulls Punk’d the Celtics all night long. (Note: That was corny. Also, to the extent you can learn anything about a person from when he gets Punk’d, Carmelo Anthony is a jackass.)
Before the game, Brian Scalabrine spoke about the confidence his Bulls have developed. “We’ve only lost three games since Kendrick got traded,” he said. “We feel like we have an unbelievable opportunity in front of us. We felt more confident that we have an opportunity.” If the Bulls were ever scared of the Celtics or unsure they could beat the Celtics, they aren’t anymore.
Tonight’s game reminded me of Rocky III, when Clubber Lang told Rocky, “I’m the baddest man in the world” and Rocky responded, “You don’t look so bad to me.” Then Clubber told him, “What did you say, Paper Champion? I’ll beat you like a dog, a dog, you fool!”
The Bulls are Clubber. They’re a wrecking machine; they’re hungry; they have no fear; they’re big, and they’re bad, and they pack a mean punch; they’re killers. I can just see the Bulls beating Orlando in round two and then Derrick Rose shouting to Mickey: “I want the Celtics! I want the Celtics! You hear that, Old Man? You tell the Celtics to come here! Nobody can beat me! You tell them what I said! And they’re NEXT! I’m gonna kill them! Nobody can stop me! You tell the Celtics that! I’M COMING AFTER THEM! YOU TELL THEM!”
Ray Allen ran around screens, and Keith Bogans was there to chest bump him every step of the way. Carlos Boozer lowered his shoulder into Jeff Green’s chest, working his way to an easy bucket, then roared his own approval. Glen Davis fell to the ground, Kurt Thomas stood over his body and taunted him, and no Celtics retaliated. Derrick Rose got to the hoop, time after time, and nobody knocked him on his ass. The Bulls pushed, and they shoved, and they talked crap, and they bullied, and the Celtics (there’s no sugar-coating this, not tonight) backed down.
The game was more complicated than that, of course. Boston missed a lot of decent looks (although they didn’t get many great ones), threw the ball away like it was an old McDonald’s wrapper, shot 38.4%, got out-rebounded 44-35, managed only 14 total assists, and lost the battle in more or less every category you could think of. One of Boston’s few bright spots was Jermaine O’Neal, and he’s a 6’11″ starting center who grabbed zero rebounds in 17 minutes. And Rose, and his Bulls teammates, were phenomenal.
Though Rocky lost to Clubber Lang once, he got a rematch and took back his title. The young wrecking machine wasn’t ready to beat the champ twice in a row, no matter how fearless he was, no matter how dangerous he was, no matter how scary he was. When on top of his game, Rocky was too tough himself. When on top of his game, Rocky was too good.
Yo, Apollo: The Celtics need some training. They need to get back their edge. They’re civilized right now, and that’s the worst thing that can happen to any fighter.