CHICAGO — Danny Ainge, a free agent to be, stepped to the contract table Friday night, the perfect time to up the ante to keep him a Portland Trail Blazer.
"It just doubled," he said.
Ainge followed that with a smile, but any asking price would have been fair game after his more-than-fair game at Chicago Stadium: 17 points--nine in overtime to tie an NBA finals record--on seven for 10 shooting as the Trail Blazers beat the Chicago Bulls, 115-104.
Maybe it was typical of his season. He had a slow start--Ainge was below 30% at the all-star game--after considering a holdout in training camp and admitting he was bothered by the lack of contract talks at a time when several other Trail Blazers got new deals.
But with Clyde Drexler hobbled in April with a sprained right knee, Ainge moved into the starting lineup and averaged 18.3 points in fourth outings.
That became Friday in a nutshell. Drexler fouled out with 4:36 to play in regulation and the Bulls about to go ahead, 92-82, when Scottie Pippen made both free throws.
Ainge charged down the lane and scooped the ball in with 1:19 to play to bring Portland within 95-93. The tie on the next possession came when Ainge found Jerome Kersey underneath the basket for what became a slam dunk.
Ainge led the way in overtime. His run started with a jump shot to give Portland a 101-99 advantage. Then Kevin Duckworth, posting up Scott Williams on the left side, saw Ainge cutting down the lane and flipped a pass that became a layup and a 105-101 lead with 2:08 to play.
"I was able to see him," Duckworth said. "That was one time I did not have two hands in my face. Usually in that situation, I'd be double-teamed."
Which made it all the more unusual--that Ainge was able to get so open, that it was single-coverage all around. But it was about to become commonplace because Ainge put the Bulls away for good after streaking down the left side and taking a pass from Terry Porter for another layup.
That made it 110-102 with 63 seconds to play. The only chase left was the record book.
Ainge caught that, too. His nine points in overtime of an NBA final tied the mark held by Boston's John Havlicek in 1974 and Detroit's Bill Laimbeer in 1990, the latter against the Trail Blazers.
"We expect this of Danny," Kersey said. "He always says he's a shooter and not a passer, so he has to back it up."
So Friday night Chicago Stadium became a proving ground, if only jokingly, and a memory. Such things are considered together after playing in 130 playoff games, but that Ainge is still playing is what matters.
"It's up there, because the world championships are obviously a little more important," he said when asked how this moment ranks with some of the others in an 11-year pro career highlighted by two titles with the Boston Celtics.
"I remember 1984, when Gerald Henderson stole the ball against the Lakers as a big play (in my memories).
"(Tonight,) it looked like we were going to be down, 2-0, but we hung tough. Hopefully this is an omen. There still is a lot of work to do, but I'd much rather be 1-1 than 0-2.
"I guess the experience I've had is a benefit because I'm not afraid to make mistakes, not afraid to make a turnover, not afraid to take the shots."
But that he replaced Drexler, there is the contrast.
"When I came in for Clyde," he said, "I just tried to keep moving. I'm not going to get the same shots as Clyde. I have to rely on my teammates to set picks and get the ball. I think we did that a lot better at that point."