NBA

Celtics escape Bulls in OT, inch closer to advancing

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The Sports Network
4/28/2009 11:59:43 PM
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Boston, MA (Sports Network) - In a series that has now featured four overtimes, Paul Pierce's shot went in and a bloodied Brad Miller's free throws didn't.

Pierce's jumper with 3.4 seconds left in overtime gave Boston the lead then the veteran Miller missed two free throws with two ticks left, as the Boston Celtics claimed a 106-104 victory over the Chicago Bulls and a 3-2 series advantage heading back to the Windy City in the Eastern Conference quarterfinal.

"I just thought I didn't over-penetrate tonight. I took my own time, I got some space off the dribble, and you know, got into my sweet spot and took the shots," said Pierce.

Pierce made the shot when it counted, while Miller couldn't convert moments after a hard foul from Rajon Rondo left him bloodied and dazed.

It was just another chapter in what is quickly becoming one of the NBA's best playoff series in years.

Pierce scored 26 points to go along with seven rebounds. Rondo tallied a game- best 28 points with 11 assists and eight rebounds, while Glen Davis chimed in with 21 points and six boards.

Kendrick Perkins notched a double-double with 16 points and 19 rebounds for the Celtics, who can close out the first round best-of-seven in Chicago on Friday.

Ben Gordon, playing with a balky hamstring, scored a team-high 26 points, while Joakim Noah added 11 points and a team-best 17 boards. Derrick Rose's stat line was again a mixture with 14 points, eight rebounds and six assists but also a game-high six turnovers.

"The games are played by so little margin," said Noah. "Guys are just hitting crazy shot after crazy shot. "Everyone knows each others sets very well so its all about who is going to execute better at the end of the game and make that shot."

Rose and Rondo exchanged quick drives and baskets to keep the Bulls in front by two points at 91-89 with 1:40 to go. Pierce tied the game moments later and Rose committed a turnover on the baseline with 55.2 seconds left.

After an empty Celtics trip, Gordon took what looked like an ill-advised shot with 16.6 seconds left, but the right wing jumper found the bottom of the net. Pierce answered by squaring up John Salmons and sticking a mid-range bucket with 10.5 ticks left.

Gordon missed a game-winning attempt from the high left wing, sending the game to overtime -- a common occurrence in a series that features a double-overtime Game 4 thriller and a Game 1 overtime tilt.

Boston was in the driver's seat before Tony Allen committed a foul on Gordon while he attempted a difficult three-pointer that may not have even been on the floor -- replays showed Gordon's back foot may have grazed the sideline before the foul.

Gordon made all three foul shots with 27.3 ticks left to tie the game at 104-104, but it was again Pierce who slowly worked his way into the lane on Salmons and buried a jumper with 3.4 seconds left.

Chicago called time and intended to use Miller as the screener for either Rose or Gordon. The big man's screen created a caravan of defenders to the streaking Bulls guards, leaving Miller open at the top of the key. The in- bounds pass came his way, and the ensuing drive resulted in a swipe across the face from Rondo.

Miller's lip leaked blood and his head possibly cobwebs after a nasty fall to the floor. He recovered, but didn't look like an 85 percent foul shooter on this trip. Miller missed long on the first, then missed the second on purpose, but it didn't hit the rim and Boston took possession, and despite two missed foul shots on the other end, the victory and series momentum.

The Bulls couldn't toss the ball into the Boston Harbor early, but energy on the perimeter and length inside negated the poor shooting start and kept the Celtics at arm's length.

Boston scored nine of the game's first 12 points and Rose missed his first four shots, not a recipe to stem the early emotional tide of the Celtics. Gordon showed he could play on the balky hamstring, and his replacement Kirk Hinrich stepped in earlier than usual with a three to bring the Bulls within 17-15.

Chicago continued to claw back at Boston's push and Tyrus Thomas' putback again cut the deficit to two points at 23-21 after 12 minutes of game action.

The Bulls tied the game three times, the last on another Hinrich bucket, before finally edging in front, 40-38, on a nifty hesitation-and-dash to the rim by Salmons. Hinrich's ensuing layup capped an 8-0 stretch for a four-point lead.

Hinrich's 14-point first half catapulted the Bulls to a 47-44 lead at the half. He scored 19 for the game, basically carrying a two-man Bulls bench to a 24-5 scoring edge on the game.

Gordon missed six straight shots at one point while still firing in the third, but his three-pointer broke the dry spell and gave the Bulls a 65-64 lead. Hinrich added a trey on the next possession and two free throws with 1.1 ticks left in the stanza, all part of a 15-8 quarter-closing spurt for a 70-66 advantage.

Chicago started white-knuckle time with a big corner three from an unlikely source, Miller, two free throws from Gordon and a highlight-reel high-low bounce feed from Miller to Noah, putting the finishing touches on nine successive points for a 77-66 edge.

An Allen three and Rondo layup capped a furious 16-6 rally to draw the Celtics within 83-82. Salmons answered with a three, but Pierce connected on two free throws, and the game remained close the rest of the way.

Notes: Thomas scored 12 points with eight rebounds for Chicago...The Bulls shot 40 percent from the floor, but made 27-of-32 free throws...Boston connected on 48.8 percent of its shots, but allowed the Bulls to grab 14 offensive rebounds..The game included 15 ties and 13 lead changes...Boston dominated the interior, scoring 54 points in the paint to just 32 for Chicago.

Paul Pierce  (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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