With the start of 2019-20 NBA Playoffs delayed, theScore's basketball editors are picking their favorite first-round series from years past. Today, we're looking back at the epic 2009 clash between the defending-champion Boston Celtics and Derrick Rose's Chicago Bulls.
The Celtics' title defense was going to be much tougher with Kevin Garnett sidelined due to a knee injury. But, with one of its most influential leaders on the mend, Boston remained a force as two-thirds of its Big Three remained intact.
Boston went 18-7 without Garnett and 62-20 overall to secure the Eastern Conference's second seed. The Big Ticket's absence didn't stall the Celtics' momentum entering the playoffs, either, as they won eight of their final nine regular-season contests.
Chicago also finished the campaign on a surge, as it went 12-4 down the stretch to finish 41-41 and seventh in the East.
The stars: Ray Allen and Ben Gordon went toe to toe in a battle of former UConn guards. Both had memorable offensive outbursts, with each of their best individual efforts coming in defeat.
Allen scored 51 points on 18-of-32 shooting - including nine triples - in the Celtics' Game 6 triple-overtime loss. Meanwhile, Gordon dropped 42 and 33 points in a pair of Bulls losses.
X-factors: Glen Davis delivered in place of Garnett, averaging 18.1 points in 41.6 minutes while also bringing a physical presence on the glass and some playmaking at the four-spot. Davis was fantastic in a Game 3 blowout win, posting 14 points, nine boards, six steals, six assists, and three blocks.
On the opposite bench, it was Joakim Noah who rose to the occasion during his first NBA playoffs. The second-year center anchored Chicago's defense, providing solid rim protection and grit against Boston's post players. Noah recorded a series-leading 13.1 rebounds, including an average of four per game on the offensive glass.
Key coaching moment: Celtics guard Eddie House had been a virtual non-factor leading into Game 7, but head coach Doc Rivers stuck by the sharpshooter and was rewarded for his faith. After registering just one field goal during the previous two contests, House was crucial in the series-clinching win.
He shot a perfect 5-for-5 from the field, scoring 10 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter. Surprisingly, House's defense was just as vital. The veteran finished the contest with three steals and put the clamps on Gordon, holding the Bulls star to 0-for-4 shooting in the final frame, according to ESPN Stats & Info.
Breakthrough players: While Rajon Rondo was an important contributor during the Celtics' championship run the year prior, he truly established himself among the Association's top floor generals with this monster series against the Bulls. The then-20-year-old averaged 19.4 points, 11.6 assists, 9.3 boards, and 2.7 steals per contest.
Rose also marked his arrival with a 36-point, 11-assist performance in Chicago's Game 1 road victory. His total scoring output matched Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's for the most points by a rookie in their first playoff game.
Turning point: The Bulls and Celtics' first-round tilt was an emotional roller coaster. Four contests required at least one overtime period - including a triple-overtime Game 6 - while five of the seven matchups were decided by a single possession.
Momentum went back and forth until Game 7 when a second-quarter 29-11 Celtics scoring run ultimately ended the Bulls' season.
Rondo was the center of attention during the series' most chippy moments, most notably his controversial foul on Bulls center Brad Miller in the dying seconds of Game 5. With Chicago down two points, Miller was hit hard by Rondo as he attempted a game-tying layup.
Replays showed Rondo made no clear play on the ball and instead hit Miller in the face, but the point guard escaped with only a personal foul rather than a flagrant. The big man proceeded to miss both free throws and required seven stitches postgame to close the gash on his mouth.
The Celtics went on to give the Orlando Magic all they could handle in the next round before falling in Game 7 on home court. The following season, Boston's Big Three - now featuring Rondo as one of its key players - returned to The Finals. However, the Celtics would squander two title-clinching opportunities against Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers.
After the Celtics fell one win short of the 2012 NBA Finals, Allen took his talents to South Beach. Boston's remaining core of Rivers, Garnett, and Paul Pierce were all traded a year later.
Meanwhile, Gordon parlayed an excellent postseason into a five-year, $55-million deal with the Detroit Pistons. Chicago didn't miss a beat without him and became a perennial playoff team. Noah developed into the Defensive Player of the Year, Luol Deng remained steady offensively, and the free-agent signing of Carlos Boozer two years later gave Chicago an interior threat.
The Bulls reached the 2011 Eastern Conference finals and looked to be on the verge of something special. Rose became the youngest MVP in league history that same season. However, a career-defining injury followed by various other ailments plagued Rose for the remainder of his tenure in the Windy City, thus preventing the club from fulfilling its potential.