Celtics-Bulls: The rivalry that never was

Saturday, December 12, 2009

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So what the hell was I listening for? Any talk of the "Celtics-Bulls rivalry", that's what. But I can't exactly seem to hear any rumblings about the "rivalry" that was born last playoffs.

Maybe it's because the rivalry was but a passing speck on the landscape of playoff history. With Kevin Garnett's far-reaching influence back in the Boston lineup, and Ben Gordon's scoring and shooting taken away from the offense-deprived Bulls, the rivalry could never materialize.

All that remain now are the memories. Sweet memories for the Celtics, bitter-sweet for the Bulls. But whether you’re a Celtics or Bulls fan, aren’t the memories great? Celtics fans can take pride in beating a game Bulls squad, despite being without their anchor and heart, KG. Bulls fans can take solace, even in the loss, that their team overachieved, overcoming all odds to send the series into a seventh game and providing the country with a far more exciting series than expected.

Watching the Bulls play the other night, I couldn't help but reminisce back to the terrific seven-game extravaganza that was more a mixture of a marathon and a boxing match than it was an NBA playoff series. There were haymakers thrown every game, but neither team ever stayed on the canvas for long. Both teams were both giving it their all, but it was nothing near a sprint.

Gordon would hit a pullup jumper in transition with a Celtic draped all over him, then Ray Allen would answer by coming off a screen to drain a three with a Chicago big man in his face. Paul Pierce would hit a one-dribble pullup to his right, then John Salmons would respond with a herky-jerky drive for a bucket. Rajon Rondo would grab a rebound, sprint the floor with the ball yo-yo'ing in his hands, and find a teammate for an easy score, but Derrick Rose would come right back, split the teeth of the Celtic defense and finish over bigger defenders at the rim.

The two teams stood toe-to-toe for 15 rounds, never once backing down, never once conceding a win or giving an inch in their quests to reach the second round. They staggered to the finish line, beaten and bloodied, fatigued from seven long and grueling games, but never showed it. They reached within themselves for every drop of energy they had left, entering the deepest confines of their bodies to squeeze out every last bit of whatever it was they had in reserve.

My words sound cliché, but if ever there was a time where clichés seemed appropriate, it would have been that series. “Give 110%,” “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over,” “Games aren’t played on paper,” “The series was a battle”; Was there a cliché that didn’t ring true during those seven games?

But to call it a rivalry is wrong. A rivalry is sustained over a long period of time as two evenly-matched teams with hatred and pure respect for each other go to war. A rivalry isn’t just a fleeting seven-game series, no matter how competitive, memorable, and tightly-contested it may be.

It was great while it lasted, but the Celtics-Bulls rivalry that never was has dissipated into thin air as the two teams have gone their separate ways. After last season, it was thought that the Bulls were a young team on the rise, and the Celtics an aging juggernaut on the last legs of a brief but powerful run near the top. Now, the Bulls are a battered team desperately in need of a makeover and some serious revamping, while the Celtics seem tooled to once again challenge for a championship. The rivalry that could have been has disappeared before it even materialized.

But the memories of the exhilarating series, of that time when clichés seemed so true? Those will always remain.


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