The Chicago Bulls were pretty much like everybody else late Thursday night -- giddy and disbelieving, silly smiles on their faces, trying to make sense of it all.
Great things had occurred, and the demands for explanations and more drama followed -- specifically, how the heck can they defeat the Celtics at Boston in tonight’s Game 7?
“I don’t know,” forward John Salmons said, before taking a long pause. “Get the last shot?”
Leave it to the weary Salmons -- who had just played the equivalent of five full NBA quarters -- to distill the unanswerable to perfect simplicity.
Game 7s really are as much about stamina as strategy. They’re about attitude as much as adjustments. They might even be more about tenacity than talent.
At this point the Bulls and Celtics know each other as well as a worn paperback. They know each other’s sets. They each know what the other is going to try to do.
Well, except for, say, Joakim Noah dribbling the length of the court and dunking while being fouled or Ray Allen arcing home a rainbow jumper that Bulls Coach Vinny Del Negro said seemed to hang in the air for five minutes.
But the point is: Each team’s mind-set will be just as important as its jump shots.
“We have to play loose,” Chicago center Brad Miller said. “That’s the joy of this [Game 6] win. It’s on them now. They’re the 2 seed, defending champs. We’re just going to play. One game left now and anything can happen.”
That, of course, already has been established, with this series setting NBA records with four overtime games and seven overtime periods. But for the Bulls to get what they want -- a second-round date with Orlando -- they must draw from the experience gained in the first three road games of this series.
“We need to bring energy and cut down on our mistakes,” guard Kirk Hinrich said. “Those first couple of games in Boston gave us confidence we can play with this team. But we have to stick together. It will be a hard-fought game. It comes down to toughing it out. That’s how this whole series has been.”
The Bulls are 1-2 at Boston, er, TD Banknorth Garden, in this series, winning Game 1 in overtime thanks to Derrick Rose’s brilliance, losing Game 2 on Ray Allen’s three-pointer and blowing an 11-point, fourth-quarter lead to drop Game 5 in overtime.
The lesson learned from the most recent visit has stayed with guard Ben Gordon.
“We’ve learned when you get a lead you can’t relax,” Gordon said. “We got up big, but there was time left and we made too many mistakes. We’ll go in there with the same mentality we’ve had the other games, but we know if we get a lead we have to buckle down and concentrate more.”
The Bulls have proved themselves unfazed by Boston’s rabid fans. And, more quietly, they are supremely confident they can run on a thin and tiring Celtics team as long as they get defensive stops.
Tellingly, the Bulls piled up an 18-3 edge in fastbreak points in Game 6 and lead 99-68 in that statistic in the series.
The Bulls are 3-5 all-time in Game 7s and 0-5 on the road, with their most recent Game 7 an 88-83 home victory over Indiana in the 1998 Eastern Conference finals. The Celtics are 16-3 in Game 7s at home.
But that’s ancient history. The Bulls are more mindful that after going 2-7 in overtime during the regular season, they are 3-1 in extra play during this series.
And, after traveling and not practicing Friday, they’re ready for more if need be.
“We’re going to have to play our best game of the series,” Del Negro said. “The pressure is on them. It’s in their building and they’re the defending world champs. We’re just going to go and make plays.”