After making a quick lap around the room, Noah made a beeline for the locker room door, going to the court.
"A lot of young fellas here," said reserve guard Lindsey Hunter, who entered the series with 141 games of playoff experience to Noah's none. "Lot of pent-up energy."
But when Chicago took the floor, that energy suddenly looked like a good thing. In Game 1 Rose outdueled Rondo as the Bulls pulled out a 105--103 overtime win. Chicago showed similar scrap in Game 2, falling just short in an epic duel between Ben Gordon (42 points) and Allen in what Rivers called a battle to determine "the best UConn player to ever play." Gordon extended the debate in a thrilling Game 4. With his team trailing by three late in the first overtime, Gordon knocked down an impossible fading three-pointer with Pierce hanging off his right shoulder. That pushed the game into a second overtime, in which the Bulls outscored Boston 11--8 to snatch a series-tying victory. "We have some resiliency we didn't know we had," said guard Kirk Hinrich afterward. "Earlier in the season we might not have won a game like this."
The Bulls have indeed come a long way this season. Chicago spent the first half toward the bottom of the standings while rookie coach Vinny Del Negro and his staff wrote a playbook from scratch. "We had no system, just a lot of ideas," says assistant Del Harris. "The assistants had never coached together, and Vinny had never coached at all. As we learned the strengths and weaknesses of our players, we found a style that worked."
They built the attack around Rose, the No. 1 pick in last year's draft. Besides being a proven winner, having led his Illinois high school team to back-to-back state titles and Memphis to within a free throw of an NCAA championship, he proved early on that he was capable of being the Bulls' focal point. Rose's penetrating skills—his speed and power resemble those of a running back—created opportunities for hyperactive big men Thomas and Noah and opened up the floor for Gordon's outside shooting. The midseason acquisition from the Kings of veterans John Salmons (who would ease the loss of forward Luol Deng to a season-ending leg injury) and center Brad Miller encouraged the Bulls to entertain playoffs hopes for this season. Even after Chicago was blown out by 21 points at home in Game 3, Noah declared, "We think we can win right now."
Sunday's win only emboldened Chicago's brash center. As he reclined in a chair in front of his locker after the game, Noah wondered aloud why it was Boston's adversity that everyone was focused on. "People underestimate how much we have gone through," said Noah. "[In January] our [owner] called our season a disaster. We lost six in a row and were booed at home. Three months ago if you asked anyone in Chicago if we would be 2--2 with Boston in the playoffs, I don't think anyone would have told you that could happen." A few doors down the hallway a shell-shocked Celtics team struggled to come up with answers. One thing they do know: If they ultimately win the series, their difficulty in getting past Chicago will serve as a reminder of the hard road ahead. And it will all but guarantee that they'll keep hearing questions about Kevin.
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