12.28.2015

C's Down Bulls




November 1, 1997

Antoine Walker could not have had a much rockier start last night. He let a rebound slip through his legs to Jason Caffey, who gave Chicago a 2-0 lead. Then Walker, open from 16 feet, shot an airball, and the Bulls scored again. 

The Celtics continued to falter in the first quarter, but they soon recovered. The tentativeness that had led to airballs, the uncertainty that had led to turnovers, disappeared.

Walker's persistence and uninhibited offensive style allowed him to recover and score 31 points as the Celtics scored a 92-85 victory over the NBA champions.

"I had some jitters in the first half," Walker said. "But we settled down and played our game. We beat the best team in the league, and this lets us know that we can play with any team in the league. It shows the city of Boston that we are going to work to improve, and this was a good stepping stone."

Walker might have been humbled by his 15-victory rookie season. But his confidence returned last night.

"We always thought we could win this game," Walker said. "Coach Rick Pitino told us we can win this game and we believed it 100 percent. They are the best team in the world, and it takes a lot of heart to come from being 20 points behind a team like that. We feel like we can do anything."

The Celtics' pressing defense turned the momentum in the second quarter, and Boston took control in the third. Walker's game was far from perfect - he had a game-high seven turnovers, committed five personal fouls, and missed more shots than anyone except Michael Jordan. But Pitino allowed him the freedom to attempt to correct those errors, and Walker succeeded by scoring 10 points (to the Bulls' 11) in the second quarter and another 12 (to the Bulls' 15) in the third.

"A system like this gives everyone a chance to showcase their skills," Walker said. "This is a way to get easy baskets. We don't have a lot of big bodies inside, so we have to play this way. Everyone did their part in this game. Everyone has a specific role. Everyone will have to do their part for us to keep winning."

The Bulls played into the Celtics' plans, becoming more passive as the Boston aggression increased. Instead of attacking, moving to meet passes, the Bulls approached the press phlegmatically, almost disdainfully. It was the perfect formula for the underdog.

"We kept with the pressure even when we were down 20," Walker said. "And we did a good job on Michael Jordan. Ron Mercer did a good job on him, even if he scored 30 points. It's the way he gets his points that matters."

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