It Was A Really Really Really Great Saturday (Bulls, Cubs, Blackhawks, and Even White Sox Edition)
When I woke up yesterday, I didn’t even really think about the fact that all 4 Chicago teams were playing that day. I mean I knew I was going to watch the Bulls game and I was really excited about going to the Blackhawks game, but I just didn’t put it all together. Here is how my day took shape:
Bulls (The Coming of Age of A Legend):
After waking up early and returning from the Farmer’s Market (I bought some amazing honeycrisp apples), I popped on the Bulls game. The Bulls started off playing very well. Unfortunately Tyrus picked up two quick fouls and found himself on the bench until about halfway through the 2nd quarter. In spite of Brad Miller’s terrible defense, they managed to put together a 16-4 run in the 2nd quarter and went into the half up 9 points. Rose looked like he was having another great game, scoring 13 points while dishing out 7 assists. It was a good half and the Bulls really looked like they could control the game.
Then everything just went crazy. The Celtics quickly closed the gap in the 3rd quarter, but Rose would not give an inch in what was fast becoming a battle for the ages. As Rondo and Rose dueled throughout the second half, trading baskets since neither was quick enough on the defensive end to stay in front of the other, the momentum switched back and forth. The game had more lead changes than I could keep track of, and you could feel it on every play. With some help from an energized Noah, some no/yes buckets from Tyrus, and a crucial missed free throw by Paul Pierce, the Bulls were able to send this game to overtime and eventually win it.
Before I get caught up in Derrick Rose’s unbelievable night (36 points, 11 assists, 4 rebounds), other credit/blame is due. Noah played the best basketball he has all season. He scored 11 points and snagged 17 rebounds, but more importantly he played high-intensity basketball every minute he was on the floor. He added a steal and 3 blocks to that and as NQTC reader Gavin pointed out to me during the game, he was doing all kinds of things that weren’t going to show up on the stat sheet. Hinrich also contributed in quiet ways, coming in defensively to help shut down Pierce and Allen. Both of those guys had terrible days, and that can be attributed in part to the job done by Salmons, Hinrich and even Gordon.
Now about Derrick Rose. His 36 points tied the record for a rookie playoff debut. Not only did that tie him with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, but it pushed him past the 2nd place man on the list at 35 points, Michael Jordan. To truly appreciate what he did, I recommend reading Henry Abbott’s breakdown of Rose’s game. His ability to get his teammates the ball in a position to score or make something happen is phenomenal. He isn’t Chris Paul yet, but on a day like yesterday he could have been. He was also able to knock down the open midrange jumper, making 5-7 from beyond 15 feet. His explosive move to the basket was leaving the Celtics arguing with each other about missed assignments.
I think the question about whether he is merely a star or the next great superstar has been laid to rest. Tonight was a coming of age for Rose. He has had great games in the past, but on this stage, in an extremely hostile environment, he showed the confidence, leadership, and skill it takes to be great in this league. I think with the right pieces next to him, he may even win a championship. For some reason it makes me think of this video, sent in by NQTC reader Frank the Tank:
After the final whistle and getting off the phone with every single member of my family and about 5 other people, my adrenaline was still pumping. Then I got a phone call from my friend Golan.
Cubs (Aramis Does It Again):
Ring ring. It’s my phone, but I barely notice it from across the room as I’m jumping up and down screaming and freaking out. The time is 2:40 p.m. and I just witnessed something that should never have happened. The Bulls winning. I finally run across the room and pick up the phone.
Golan: “Are you gonna watch this game right now?”
Me: “Which NBA game is on now anyways?”
Golan: “No I mean the Cubs game.”
Shit, I completely forgot about the Cubs game. It started at exactly 2:40 though, so I popped it on. I was having trouble sitting down and staying calm for most of the game. My adrenaline was still pumping from the Bulls and I was getting excited for the Hawks game that night. The first couple innings of the Cubs game barely caught my attention as I was chattering about a mile a minute about the Bulls to Golan, who had stopped by to watch the game.
In the 3rd inning Dempster started showing some cracks, giving up 3 runs and causing me to pay a little more attention to the game. (This would not be Dempster’s last appearance in my story, by the way) Nothing was going to bring down my mood though. The Cubs got one back on a Fukudome double in the bottom half and I was confident we could come back. Then in the 5th inning we did come back and tied it up 4-4. We got another run from Miles and went ahead 5-4.
I had two notable conversations with Golan before he left around the 5th or 6th inning. Both foreshadowed how the rest of the game would go. The first was Golan thought Aramis Ramirez was one of the great clutch hitters in the league. I gave him my usual spiel about how there is no such thing as clutch-hitting, but Aramis is a great hitter in any situation. The second conversation was an argument where I tried to say the bullpen hasn’t been that bad this year with guys like Heilman and Marmol being pretty good and other guys like Gregg and Guzman rounding into form.
In the 7th inning, Cotts came on and walked the first 2 batters he faced. Lou brought in Marmol who slammed the door on the Cards comeback attempt, retiring all three batters he faced. Then he melted down. He came on to start the 8th and gave up two doubles and hit Khalil Greene. Thankfully Kevin Gregg had his good stuff (yeah apparently he has good stuff), and he got two strikeouts and a groundout to end the threat. Unfortunately the Cards had tied it up 5-5.
I had a minor problem. I had to get to my friends house so we could head down to the Hawks game. I set my phone on 15 second refresh on ESPN.com and ran to the bus. The Cubs weren’t able to win it in the 9th and I arrived at my buddy’s in time to see the 10th and 11th. Golan, I want to apologize to you for our earlier disagreement. I was completely wrong. Aramis Ramirez is clutch, end of story. When he stepped up to the plate in that 11th inning, I just kind of knew, and so did Aramis. With one gigantic swing of the bat Ramirez did what he has done for the past 8 years: put on his hard hat and carry his lunchbox to work everyday and hit the ball really hard. He has more home runs as a 3rd basemen than anyone in all of baseball since 2001. It’s time he got his due as one of the greatest 3rd basemen of our generation. He has quietly compiled some monster stats and deserves much more recognition than he receives. Chicago teams were 2-0 so far.
Chicago Blackhawks (Toews Wins My Heart)
After arriving at the Hawks game we grabbed a beer and took our seats. There was a sort of energy in the building that was intangible and yet you could cut through it with a knife. I had been to the United Center many times and even seen a few Hawks games there, but this was different. They always say playoff hockey is insane, but you have to actually experience it to truly understand. After my ears almost exploded from screaming throughout the national anthem, Coach Ditka came out to drop the ceremonial faceoff puck and the game was under way.
The screaming had gone from essentially the beginning of the montages through the end of the national anthem (about 20 minutes) and my throat already hurt. Then the first period started and the Hawks gave my sore throat a much needed rest. They played some of the sloppiest hockey I have seen and made me question whether they were ready for the playoffs. Calgary was more physical, more controlled and all around better. It showed on the scoreboard too, where the Hawks trailed by 2 goals. My understanding of hockey playoffs is that there aren’t a lot of goals scored because of how physical it is and how great the goaltending is. We were all pretty disheartened and a collective melancholy had settled over the crowd.
Then the 2nd period started and everything changed. Toews was able to score a pretty-looking goal early in the period during a power play, but the Hawks still started off slow and gave the Flames way too many shots on goal. The Flames were still far more physical than the Hawks, however. Everytime Burish came on the crowd would get excited for the Hawks to finally fight back. The problem is Burish is terrible at hockey. Every time he touched the puck he would make a bad pass or give it up. Also whoever this Walker guy is, why is he on the team? He is the worst player I have ever seen. Anyways as the period wore on you could tell the Hawks were poised to break through. They were starting to play more controlled and finally it happened. On an amazing pass by Kane, Sharp just tapped it into the net in another gorgeous, crisp-looking goal that tied the game 2-2.
Even though the Flames were playing far more physical, the Hawks were clearly dominating the entire second period. Toews scored another gorgeous looking goal in the waning seconds of the period and as the 3rd period started the waiting game began. Quick note, Ryan Dempster was the celebrity contestant for the hockey puck shot game between the 2nd and 3rd period. He wore a crazy looking plaid sport coat and was introduced as a Canadian. The Sox-heavy crowd booed him but he was actually very good at handling the stick and almost made the impossible shot.
Anyways, the waiting game was brutal. Besides one altercation that resulted in a 4-on-4, it was pretty much an excruciating 20 minutes. I felt like that scene in Miracle where the US team is just counting down the clock and praying that the Ruskies don’t score. And just like that movie, the Flames could not convert. They had some decent chances early in the period but the Hawks clamped down for the rest and marched to a 2-0 lead in the series.
Jonathan Toews is everything I’ve heard about and more. This kid is amazing. His goals were beautiful and his energy and focus were admirable. Sharp and Kane were also fun to watch. This team is young and exciting and could make a run deep into the post-season.
Now before I end this Hawks game discussion, there is one thing I didn’t mention the whole time that may be the most important key to the Hawks win. Khabibulin. All I heard all season was about how the Hawks have two extremely expensive, yet average goalies in Huet and Khabi. On this night, though, Khabi made some amazing saves. Not one or two, but again and again from the drop of the puck to the final horn he was blocking the puck with everything he had. One save actually looked like he knocked it off the blade of his skate. If he can do what he did last night coupled with the Hawks high-powered offense, they are as good as any team in the playoffs right now.
About halfway through the Hawks game, my friend asked me to check the White Sox score on my phone for him. The White Sox? I had completely forgotten about them in the craziness of the day. Sure enough, the Sox had beaten the Rays 8-3 to make it a perfect 4-0 for Chicago sports teams yesterday. Rose, Ramirez, Toews and Khabibulin all made my day amazing. I don’t know when the next time 4 Chicago teams will win 2 playoff games and go 4-0 overall on the same day will be, but for now, I hope everyone enjoyed it as much as I did. So what are you up to today?