Ducks take Game 2 in Triple OT marathon

Marchant's goal in the beginning half of the 3rd overtime at the Joe on Sunday put an end to the marathon of hockey in Game 2. Hiller was very impressive, holding off the Wings in overtime including a total of 59 saves for the game. 

Hawks advance over Miami in Game 7 Blowout

Josh Smith and Mike Bibby led the Hawks to yet another blowout in a series that never saw a lead change. The Hawks advance to the second round for the first time since 1999. Their reward: a Cleveland team on a mission with the new 2009 NBA MVP leading the charge.

Series opens with Game 1 on Tuesday night! Bill Trooch - Heat's Jermaine O'Neal out again, Horford to play in Game 7

Bill Trooch - Heat's Jermaine O'Neal out again, Horford to play in Game 7

ATLANTA -- If the Heat are to beat the Hawks in Game 7 on Sunday, they will have to do it without Jermaine O'Neal.

The veteran big man will miss his second straight game with a concussion, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. O'Neal suffered a concussion in Game 5. He was averaging 16 points per game in the series. Joel Anthony started in place of O'Neal in Game 6 and is expected to start Game 7.

"(O'Neal) practiced yesterday and he feels better today, but our medical people do not feel he is ready," Spoelstra said.

Hawks center Al Horford will start after missing Game 6 with a sprained ankle, and guard Marvin Williams will dress and is available, according to coach Mike Woodson. Williams has been battling a wrist injury in the series and played just five minutes in Game 6.

"We will have to keep an eye on both those guys and just see how they are and how much they can go," Woodson said. - Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls Highlights

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Alexander Ovechkin schools the New York Rangers...

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Lebron James doing what he does best... - Pierre LeBrun: "Giggy sits, but supports young Hiller."

DETROIT -- There was Jean-Sebastien Giguere on Saturday, working his butt off in practice, joking with teammates and not looking any worse for wear.

But looks can be deceptive.

Know this: It is absolutely killing the backbone of the 2007 Stanley Cup championship team to be watching these playoffs from the bench. But he will not complain. He also happens to be friends with the guy starting ahead of him, Jonas Hiller.

"It's really hard, extremely hard, probably one of the hardest things I've faced in my career," Giguere said Saturday. "It's not a situation that's a whole lot of fun for me. But you know, Jonas deserves what he's getting. He's worked extremely hard since he's got here. He didn't steal the job -- he just deserves it. And that's the bottom line."

These are heady times for the 27-year-old Hiller, who outplayed his San Jose counterpart, Evgeni Nabokov, in Anaheim's first-round upset of the President's Trophy winners and continued to cement his place as a legitimate No. 1 NHL netminder.

He was terrific again Friday night in a 3-2 loss to Detroit, and his numbers through seven playoff games -- a 1.84 goals-against average and .951 save percentage -- leave no room for interpretation. He has arrived.

"It feels great," Hiller said Saturday. "I can finally see what I've been working for, developing. I see improvement every year. There are things left I can achieve. I can get better."

At his side every step of the way has been Ducks goalie coach Francois Allaire, the legendary butterfly guru who first made his name with Patrick Roy. Allaire opened a goalie school in Switzerland some 18 years ago, and Hiller is a product of that schooling, following in the footsteps of Tomas VokounCristobal HuetMartin Gerber and David Aebischer, among others.

"He's one of the guys that's been there for many, many years," Allaire said of Hiller's attending his school. "I've been really fortunate that he signed with us, for sure."

When you look back now, it seems obvious Hiller would choose the Ducks over the several NHL teams that tried to sign the free-agent netminder in the spring of 2007. But it was a little tricky. The Ducks already had Ilya Bryzgalov backing up Giguere. Former Ducks GM Brian Burke basically had to promise the No. 2 job to Hiller as part of his sales pitch, which meant finding a new home for Bryzgalov. Of course, the other part of the sell was easy -- Allaire was the Ducks' goalie coach.

"It was a factor, for sure," Hiller said. "I was a free agent, and I could pretty much choose where I wanted to go. I wanted a No. 2 job somewhere, see a chance where I can get it. Anaheim kind of offered me that, and Frankie was a big part of it. I know how he works and what he asks of his goalies."

Had Allaire had his way, the Ducks would have gotten their hands on Hiller a long time ago.

"I talked to [former Ducks GM Bryan Murray] about Jonas, too," said Allaire, who's held his post with Anaheim for the past 13 years. "He was a draftable guy before the lockout, but nobody drafted him. Even us."

After the lockout, Allaire pressed Burke to sign Hiller, but the goalie opted to play two more seasons with Davos in the Swiss League. So, again, Allaire would have to wait to get one of his disciples across the pond.

"I think he could have joined the NHL maybe a year or two before he did," Allaire said. "But at the same time, when you look at the situation, he was playing maybe 85 to 90 games per season over there, with the world championships and the Spengler Cup and playoffs and everything. So it was good for his development."

Once Hiller's deal with Davos expired in the spring of 2007, Allaire was in Burke's ear again. "Sign this guy, please, if we can afford it," was what the goalie coach said to the former GM.

"Obviously, we were really happy when it happened because he had a lot of choices at that time," Allaire said. "He could have gone with many, many [NHL] teams. I think he chose a team where he could be comfortable, and that's probably one thing I could bring to him."

Hiller knew he had an ally in Allaire, but what was an equally important development was the way Giguere welcomed him.

"He's a great guy and he has been right from the beginning when I got to Anaheim," Hiller said of Giguere. "He showed me around; he helped me out with things. He's not just the guy I fight the spot for, but also a good friend of mine.

"He's very supportive, and that makes things a lot easier if you're battling together instead of battling each other."

It's a tough spot for Allaire as well. He's also close with Giguere.

"It's a different situation," Allaire said. "It's a situation you have to deal with for Giggy, for me, for Hiller. But the thing that's really important to know is that Giguere has been really supportive towards Jonas all season long. He's a real team guy. He doesn't try to bother the other guy, he tries to help him out. That's one of the trademarks of Giggy."

Allaire said that's how Giguere has always been in Anaheim, going back to the way he helped out Gerber and Bryzgalov as well.

"He has been supportive and given those guys all the advice he could," Allaire said. "When those guys were winning, he was happy for them. We've developed a lot of good backups here, and Giggy was a big part of that."

Still, this isn't how Giguere had envisioned this season. He began the campaign in his normal position as the starting goalie but eventually lost the job to Hiller. Down the stretch, the Swiss netminder took the net for good.

"He just earned the opportunity," Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said. "We had our struggles as far as being consistent as a hockey club. Goaltending was a part of that through half of the season. Once the trade deadline came, we just made a decision: Once you win, you're in.

"We're still not saying that he's won the job," Carlyle added. "He's earned the job at this point. We feel we have 1A and 1B in the goaltending tandem."

What's happened to Giguere? The death of his father earlier this season was tough on the veteran goalie and may have contributed to his game's going off track.

"It was extremely hard, probably the hardest season I've had in my career," Giguere said. "I thought I had a fairly good start to the season and then there were distractions off the ice. For some reason, I could never find a way to get my game back. It's been difficult, and it's still difficult.

"But I believe I will come out of this a stronger and better person, and a stronger goalie."

The Ducks are focused on the here and now, but it will be very interesting to see what the organization does with this situation moving forward. Giguere is earning $6 million next season and $7 million in 2010-11, the last year of his deal. He also has a no-trade clause. Hiller will be a bargain at $1.3 million next season, but then he will need a new, more expensive deal for the 2010-11 season.

Do the Ducks really want a $6 million backup next year? Does Giguere want to sit on the bench through another season?

"It's the wrong time," Giguere said, declining to discuss what may lie ahead for him. "The future is now -- it's in the playoffs with Detroit. We'll take it one day at a time."

Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for - Gene Wojciechowski: "Appreciating this Boston marathon."

BOSTON -- Well, it's over ... sigh.

The best NBA first-round playoff series this side of ever finally came to a reluctant end Saturday evening as the Boston Celtics cut the Chicago Bulls into Game 7 sushi rolls. The C's won 109-99 and move to the Eastern Conference semis against Orlando. The B's return to Chicago, but with their heads in the raised position.

Anticlimactic? Sure, but only because there's almost no way this series could have sustained its historic pace. It would have been like running 2-minute miles for the entire Boston Marathon.

But it tried. Seven games, seven overtime periods. Just one blowout. There were stitches, bloody towels, pain-killing injections, shoves, flagrants, technicals. More ice was used in this series than at a 3-for-1 Happy Hour.

Afterward, in a hallway just outside the Celtics' locker room, Boston coach Doc Rivers, wearing his shamrock cuff links, and Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro exchanged hugs. It was a respect thing.

"Helluva series," Rivers said to the rookie coach. "Helluva job. Trade all those guys away. I don't want to see them anymore."

Rivers is right; the Bulls weren't much fun to play. And they're only going to get better. But the Celtics didn't win a championship by accident last season. They're world-class grinders, and that's what they did Saturday night -- they paper-cutted the Bulls to playoff death.

Trying to put this particular best-of-seven into quick historical perspective is a little tricky. Celtics captain Paul Pierce said it was "one of the most mentally tough series I've ever had to deal with." Rivers added, "I didn't see great. I just saw hard."

It was great and hard. Just because it was a first-round series doesn't lessen how compelling it was.

"I tip my hat off to the Bulls," Pierce said. "You didn't really expect them to come in and play the way they did throughout the whole seven games. We expected them to play hard. They really pushed us to the limit. This was a great, great series. Thank goodness we were battle tested. Next year, I was telling some of the [Bulls], if they bring that team back and get [Luol] Deng healthy, they're going to be tough to beat."

Rivers quickly corrected Pierce.

"The Bulls were phenomenal in this series," he said. "The coaches did expect them to be very good, and they were."

These aren't the two best teams in the league. I'm not sure the Celtics are even the second-best team in the East -- not with Kevin Garnett and his injured knee stuck on the bench and in street clothes. But criticizing the quality of this series because the teams were equally matched is like criticizing Angelina Jolie because her lips are too pouty.

Anyway, on behalf of anybody with a pulse, I'd like to thank the Bulls and Celtics for turning an opening-round series into a symposium on basketball classics. I might frame my media pass.

After all, how can you not appreciate a series in which we saw the future (the Bulls' Derrick Roseand the Celtics' Rajon Rondo), the present (the Celtics' Ray Allen and the Bulls' John Salmons) and the past (Ben Gordon, if -- and management would be nuts not to -- the Bulls don't re-sign the unrestricted free agent)? It was hyper-intense, hyper-chippy and hyper-compelling.

Even Celtics announcer and local legend Tommy Heinsohn got into it. When a sideline reporter informed Heinsohn that the Bulls' Joakim Noah had soured on Garnett, Heinsohn growled to viewers, "Go back to France."

Uh, Tommy, Noah was born in New York City. But you get the point.

There was mutual distaste and mutual respect by the end of these seven games. Both the Celtics and the Bulls knew they had been part of something extraordinary.

"I definitely think it was one of the best series ever," said Gordon, who scored 33 in the loss. "If it was any other round, it could easily be THE best ever."

Gordon played a lot this series with a bad hammy. He and Allen spent most of those seven games hitting shots from the four ends of the Earth. And on Saturday night, Celtics reserveEddie House joined in, making treys from everywhere, including just inches from the Bulls' bench, with Chicago reserves standing up behind and screaming in his ear. Didn't matter. House was 4-for-4 on 3-pointers.

The Celtics needed everybody and everything (home-court advantage) to subdue the Bulls. House scored 16 off the bench. Brian Scalabrine had eight points. Milk-carton candidate Stephon Marbury actually provided something close to quality minutes. Mikki Moore scored four points in his 2 minutes, 39 seconds of play.

The Bulls, who led early, did what they could, but a comatose second quarter sort of did them in. Boston outscored them 29-11 in the quarter.

"We gave them a run," Rose said of Chicago's second-half charge.

They'll give the league more than that next season. But for now, this series will have to get them through the summer.

"If the whole team is back, it will give us a full year to really jell," said Gordon, who said he'd like to return, huge long-term deal permitting. "I think we'll continue to get better, and we'll have a way better season than we did this year."

But a better series than this? Uh, no.

 - Gene Wojciechowski