Chicago, IL (Sports Network) - In a series that has featured four overtime contests, including three in a row, and a total of seven extra sessions, the Eastern Conference quarterfinal between the Chicago Bulls and Boston Celtics fittingly is headed to a seventh game.
Joakim Noah came up with the steal and go-ahead three-point play, and NBA Rookie of the Year Derrick Rose had the crucial block on Rajon Rondo's shot in the waning seconds, helping the Bulls escape with a 128-127 triple-overtime thriller in Game 6 at the United Center.
"I'm just excited that we're still alive," said Noah. "We were really close to death today and I feel every game is like that. It's such a roller coaster. I'm having so much fun out there."
The series, which has been laden with incredible physical play, will conclude on Saturday in Boston at 8 p.m. (et).
Rose totaled 28 points, eight rebounds and seven assists, but his lone block of the night came at the most crucial time. Brad Miller ended with 23 points and 10 rebounds for the Bulls. Ben Gordon was limited to 12 points before fouling out.
Paul Pierce had 22 points and nine rebounds, and Glen Davis tallied 23 points, but both players fouled out along with teammate Kendrick Perkins, who had 12 points and 13 boards. Rondo tallied eight points, nine rebounds and equaled a Celtics postseason record with 19 assists.
Noah, who had 15 rebounds, stepped into the passing lane to deflect Pierce's pass, raced the other way and threw down a right-handed jam. Pierce fouled out on the play, and Noah sank the free throw for a 126-123 difference with 35.5 seconds left.
"It was more of a reaction," said Noah. "He drove to my side and I stunted at him, tried to make him pick up his dribble. He threw the pass, got the steal and it felt like it took me forever to get to the basket, but I'm happy I got there."
For Pierce, he admitted the big mistake trying too quick to pass to Brian Scalabrine.
"I should have taken my time with the pass. It was an awful pass that Noah deflected," said Pierce. "At that point you want to save the basket. You want to try to get back as hard as you can and you don't think about fouls."
Eddie House drained a jumper from the left corner seven seconds later for a one-point difference before Miller sank two from the charity stripe. Rondo then tipped in his own miss for a 128-127 margin with 23.7 seconds to go.
Chicago's Kirk Hinrich then missed a wide open layup off an inbounds pass, giving the second-seeded Celtics the ball back with 16.7 seconds left, but Rose snuffed Rondo's fadeaway jumper and came up with the loose ball.
Rose missed both ensuing foul shots with 3.2 seconds left, but Rondo's shot from near half-court hit high off the backboard as time expired.
"The series is a lot of fun for the fans, of the people of Chicago, of the people of Boston, but it's a lot of fun for us too, playing in environments like this, on the big stage and putting on a great performance almost every game," said Noah. "It's special to be a part of this and it's a series I know people will be talking about for a long time."
The winner on Sunday will face No. 3 seed Orlando in the conference semifinals. The Magic, minus a suspended Dwight Howard and an injured Courtney Lee, finished off Philadelphia, 114-89, on Thursday in Game 6 of that first- round series.
Boston was ready to steal the victory by scoring 18 consecutive points in the fourth quarter, but as in games past finishing in regulation wasn't in the cards.
Tyrus Thomas hit a jumper with just under nine minutes remaining, providing the Bulls with a 91-81 advantage, but Boston's defense stymied Chicago over the ensuing six minutes. Allen hit a pair of three-pointers during the spurt, and Perkins provided the Celtics with a 93-91 edge midway through the period on a putback hook shot in the lane.
The Bulls continued to self-destruct with Gordon being called for a technical foul with less than five minutes left. That led to an Allen free throw. Pierce then hit a jumper, and after a Perkins block, Pierce nailed a three-pointer from the left wing for a 99-91 difference with nearly 3 1/2 minutes left.
Chicago, though, rallied and Miller's three-pointer from the top of the arc made it 101-99 with 1:06 remaining. Tony Allen was then short on a runner in the lane, and Miller drove in for a layup with 29.7 seconds to go, evening the contest.
Pierce's jumper from the right wing clanked off the rim, and Rose grabbed the rebound, giving the Bulls the ball back with 4.4 seconds remaining. After a timeout, Gordon air-balled a jumper from the right side, ensuring another overtime period in the dramatic series.
Davis hit a jumper with 40.1 seconds left in the first OT, capping six straight Boston points for a 109-107 lead, but Salmons drove the lane for the tying bucket with 23.5 left. Pierce then threw up an air ball at the buzzer.
Allen hit a shot from the right corner with 20 seconds left in the second OT, pulling Boston within 116-115. His toe was barely on the line, otherwise it would have tied the game.
"As much as I shoot I always know where I am on the floor. I didn't know where my foot was on that play," said Allen. "Those inches, it just took that away."
After Miller made two foul shots, Allen did hit the tying three-ball with 7.6 seconds left, over Hinrich. The Bulls couldn't get a shot off in the final seconds with the teams scrambling for a loose ball near midcourt as time expired, pushing the marathon to a third OT.
Chicago used a 17-4 run to grab a 28-15 lead in a physical first quarter, one in which Rondo and Hinrich nearly came to blows in the final minute. Stephon Marbury missed a three-pointer for the Celtics with 28 seconds left in the quarter. Rondo and Hinrich got tangled up on the right side of the court. Rondo grabbed Hinrich's arm and tossed him against the scorer's table. Hinrich retaliated by shoving Rondo before referee Ed Malloy stepped in between the two players.
The three game officials then huddled before reviewing the play and handed out a flagrant 1 foul to Rondo and a technical to Hinrich.
It's a been a bruising series to say the least. In Game 5, Hinrich drove to the hoop only to be tripped by Rondo. Hinrich needed stitches to close a wound over his right eye. Then at the end of the contest, Miller was left with a bloody mouth after taking a shot from Rondo on a foul. Miller missed both ensuing foul shots and the defending NBA champion Celtics held on for a 106-104 win.
The Bulls were ahead 37-26 after one quarter, but Boston rallied late in the second, tying the game at 50 on an Allen jumper with 3 1/2 minutes left. Chicago held a 59-57 edge at the break.
Meanwhile, Pierce was forced to get stitches under his nose and didn't return until 4 1/2 minutes to go in the third. The period stayed tight most of the way until Chicago gained an eight-point lead late and carried that to an 83-76 cushion moving to the fourth.
Allen went 9-of-18 from three-point range. His nine three-balls set a record for most by a Celtic in the playoffs and the 18 set an NBA record for most attempts in a postseason contest...Pierce had eight in a game against Philadelphia in 2002...Allen had nine three-pointers in a playoff game on June 1, 2001 when he played for Milwaukee (vs. Philadelphia)...Rondo's 19 assists ties the Celtics playoff record held by Bob Cousy...Rose and Salmons each played nearly 60 minutes...Hinrich had 11 points and seven assists...Boston went 11-of-31 from beyond the arc...The 51 points by Allen ties for the second-most in Celtics playoff history. John Havlicek had 54 against Atlanta in 1973...Chicago is 0-5 all-time in Game 7 road contests.