King Kaufman's Sports Daily

NBA playoffs: Despite the best efforts of the Celtics and some absurdist officiating, Boston forces a Game 7. Plus: Rockets and Mavs go the distance too.

By Salon Staff
Published May 6, 2005 3:21PM (EDT)

I had a column all written bidding farewell to the Celtics. It was really brilliant, in iambic pentameter and everything. Now I can't use it, even if they lose Game 7. All the rhymes are on "six."

I wrote it during the first timeout of Boston's Game 6 at Indiana, when the Pacers had a 10-0 lead four and a half minutes in and the Celtics looked like they might not make a shot all night. They were 0-for-7 with two turnovers, and those numbers really don't describe how badly they were playing.

But the Celts got close by the opening minutes of the second quarter, went ahead a few minutes later and, despite their best efforts to lose at the end, forced a Game 7 at home Saturday with a 92-89 overtime win.

The Rockets also forced a Game 7 Saturday, in Dallas, by beating the Mavericks at home, 101-83. This was a game the Rockets led 82-80 with 7:20 to go. And then they scored 19 straight points.

"That," the Mavericks told the Celtics with a self-satisfied nod, "is how you lose a ballgame!"

The Celtics' method had been to have their best player, Paul Pierce, get himself ejected with 12.9 seconds to go in regulation and Boston up by one. Pierce was fouled intentionally near midcourt by Jamaal Tinsley, and he took exception to the way Tinsley slapped at his face.

He should have walked to the line to hit two free throws and give his team a three-point lead, which would have forced the Pacers to try a 3-pointer, something they likely would have called on Reggie Miller to do.

As it happened, Miller did shoot a 3-pointer at the end, and it landed somewhere in Ohio. But we're getting ahead of ourselves.

Rather than make that walk to the free-throw line, Pierce threw an elbow at Tinsley's neck. He may or may not have connected solidly, but Tinsley went down like a felled redwood. "I'm hit, men!" he shouted. "Go on without me! I love ya, Ma! Can't see now. So cold ... so ... cold."

Pierce was already the proud owner of a technical foul, called in the third quarter after Tinsley fouled him and Pierce -- well, Pierce didn't do anything. It was a stunningly ridiculous call.

After Pierce threw his elbow in the fourth quarter, the referees huddled before deciding to assess the technical, which, because it was his second, meant ejection for Pierce. There had been no such huddle after the first, when referee Steve Javie, standing to Pierce's left, thought he saw Pierce throw his right elbow.

Why the refs huddled after the obvious, center-court, out there in front of everybody elbow in the fourth quarter but not after the assumed, did I really see what I think I just saw him do with a part of his body I can't see elbow in the third is one of those mysteries of NBA officiating. My theory: NBA refs are conducting an ongoing exercise in random behavior. They're neo-dadaists.

Pierce admitted later that he'd made a "bonehead" move, which he had, but he still got jobbed.

Anyway, with Pierce gone, the Pacers got to invoke one of the weirdest, dumbest, most obscure rules in American professional sports. They got to choose which Celtic they wanted to shoot the free throws Pierce would have shot if he hadn't been ejected, including guys on the bench. Of course they chose a 64-percent free-throw shooter sitting at the edge of the row, Kendrick Perkins.

Their first choice had actually been Red Auerbach, but the refs huddled and said no.

It was just dumb luck that Perkins was even wearing his uniform shorts under his warmups. He had played one minute in this series in games decided by fewer than 20 points. When his name was called, he'd been daydreaming about fishing lures.

At this point, if I'm Perkins, I stand up, then immediately drop to the floor. "The agony!" I shout, grabbing at my knee. "Oh, sweet Lord, the pain!" And every guy on the team should do the same thing until only the five best shooters still eligible are standing. After the free throws, a big group prayer, maybe some snake-handling, and everyone is miraculously healed.

Let's change this rule, please -- along with that one that lets players call timeout when under pressure to avoid a turnover while we're at it. Let the offended team choose one of the four players on the floor to shoot the free throws. Not only does that seem more fair, but it would still have allowed the Pacers to choose Antoine Walker, an atrocious free-throw shooter, 54 percent on the season.

Instead, Perkins, a better free-throw shooter but ice cold and trying to sneak a look at the scoreboard to figure out what was going on, clanged both free throws, leaving the game tied, because Miller had hit the technical free throw at the other end.

So the Pacers had a chance to win after a timeout. Miller came off a screen and took a pass on the left wing. He looked in to Jermaine O'Neal but was denied the entry pass by -- by Gary Payton! He'd switched off of Miller on the screen and was fronting O'Neal. How great a play was that? Let's hear it for the Glove.

Miller launched a long three over Walker. It could have been a storybook three, a game-winner by the retiring sharpshooter. If only it hadn't landed in Ohio.

In the overtime Walker, who for much of the game was at his shot-jacking, ball-hogging, turnover-machine worst, hit a couple of big shots and the Celtics prevailed in the strangest game of the playoffs so far.

Home teams are 72-16 in NBA Game 7s, so the Celtics have to be feeling good about things. That historical .818 winning percentage is also a happy thought for the Mavericks, who had their three-game winning streak ended by Tracy McGrady and the Rockets bench, especially Dikembe Mutombo, who played the entire fourth quarter and looked like himself, only 10 years younger.

McGrady has been doing a fabulous job of defending Mavs star Dirk Nowitzki, making him look like merely a pretty good player. For the past three games, that valiant defensive effort has left McGrady dragging in the fourth quarter, but he found some reserves Thursday and led the Rockets' fourth-quarter charge. By my count he had 11 points, three rebounds, two assists and a block in the quarter, and it was his 3-pointer that gave the Rockets a 14-point lead and felt like the dagger.

Like, wow. And I don't mean wow as in Yao, as in Ming, who sat for the entire fourth quarter after pretty much stinking out the joint in the latter part of the third, turning the ball over, missing layups and free throws and generally looking lost.

Mutombo's outrageous performance -- 10 rebounds and four blocks in 18 minutes -- was a huge bonus for the Houstons, but they can't count on a repeat. The 38-year-old has been playing very well for the last month or so, but he's tended to follow big games like Thursday's with quiet ones. Yao had best get it together before the weekend if the Rockets are going to overcome that Game 7 home-court advantage.

And Tracy McGrady had better eat his Wheaties again.

Previous column: Wizards choke but survive

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