10.28.2012

Is It Too Early to Order a Ring? (97-98)



October 31, 1987 

Before you do anything else, put the damn phone down. Don't argue. Just put it down. The people at Josten's have been instructed not to accept championship ring orders from Celtic fans stunned to delirium by the fact their team is undefeated after an opening night date with the Bulls.

Better you should simply relax and enjoy the anomaly that was the Celtics' 92-85 victory last night over the ghostly Chicagoans. Not often will Rick Pitino and friends come back from a 20-point, first-quarter deficit to win. To do so against the Bulls is too goofy to fathom.

But on this Halloween, the Celtics provided both the trick and the treat on opening night, bedeviling the defending champions who played most of the game as if they believed all they had to do was show up at the FleetCenter front door and accept their candy.

Michael Jordan acknowledged as much after scoring 16 of his 30 points in the last quarter to nearly bring his Bulls all the way back from the edge. He talked about his club's unforced errors and failure to properly compensate for Scottie Pippen's absence. Then he added: "You got a pretty good team here."

From Captain Competitive, a guy who particularly likes to stick it to the Celtics, this is the equivalent of a major testimonial.

Antoine Walker scored 31 points to pace the upset, and Chauncey Billups added 15 points and a major spark. Travis Knight pulled in 13 rebounds in a 52-41 board victory.

"I think our guys deserve a lot of credit," said Pitino. "We beat a great basketball team. They were without one of their best players, but our guys still deserve a lot of credit."

The game ended with the crowd on its feet. It was a gathering that didn't didn't ask for much. The sentiment was best expressed by the guy in the lower seating area wearing a bag over his head and holding a sign that read: "Hey, Pitino, let us show our face." At least, we think it was a guy. But whatever the gender (a point of debate for No.91 on the Bulls, as well), the people got what they wanted -- a return on their ticket investment.

And to think this game was essentially over after 12 minutes. Or so it seemed.

The Celtics acted as if they had one more quarter to play in the 1996-97 season before they could commence with the present campaign. And they completed their course work with an eerily reminiscent effort worthy of the 15-67 franchise ebb. By the time the Pitinoids awoke to the fact that this counted and, by the way, they were getting their noses rubbed into the parquet on national television, they were on the quicksand side of a 32-12 score.

The Bulls were playing without Pippen (foot surgery), and after the first 12 minutes, without much purpose, either. Boston took advantage.

Light bulbs seemed to be going off over the Celtic heads as their defense began to produce results.

"We tried a man-press in the first half, sort of a coward's press," Pitino said. "Midway through the second quarter we realized that if we didn't start trapping we could lose by 90."

The Bulls made just 11-of-43 shots (26 percent) in quarters two and three as the C's outscored them, 56-26. Twenty-two of the Boston points were Walker's.

"I thought going in if we outrebounded them we had a great chance to win," Pitino said. "We had to rebound, defend the 3 and make the 3 (Chicago hit 1-of-8 treys, Boston 5-of-18). After the first quarter, I told them it was all right and that if they played hard defense we'd make a run.

"I wasn't believing anything I was saying," he added with a smile.

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