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Duel went down to last shot

By Gary Dzen
Globe Staff / April 21, 2009
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When Joakim Noah picked up a technical foul with 7:02 left in the third quarter, Bulls guard Ben Gordon grabbed two fistfuls of his teammate's jersey and told him to cool it.

And then Gordon caught fire.

Gordon scored 23 points after the incident with Noah, a playoff-high 42 overall. Gordon scored his team's final 12 points as the Bulls almost took their second straight game at TD Banknorth Garden last night before falling, 118-115.

"We ran a lot of stuff for Ben, and Ben was converting," said Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro. "He was fantastic."

Fantastic only begins to describe the duel Gordon had with fellow UConn product Ray Allen down the stretch. With the game on the ropes, Gordon hit a long jumper with 46.9 seconds left to put the Bulls up, 113-112. Allen answered with 3-pointer with 25 seconds left to put the Celtics up.

"It was almost personal," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "That's what you felt. That neither one was going to give into the other guy. It almost looked like they turned it into a personal battle. 'Who's the best UConn player to ever play?' And it was amazing."

Gordon and Allen battled to the game's final play. Gordon drained a jumper with 12.3 seconds left to tie the score at 115, but he got caught in a double screen on the Celtics' final possession, and Allen's 3-pointer with two seconds remaining in regulation prevented a Bulls sweep in Boston.

"We would have loved to win this game and head back to Chicago up, 2-0," said Gordon. "But we got a split, and that's tough to do against the defending champs."

The scoring spree wasn't the only way Gordon used his veteran influence to lead his team. Tensions flared when Kendrick Perkins backed down Noah midway through the third quarter and drew a foul. As Perkins walked away, Noah followed him and tried to stare him down, earning a technical foul in the process. Gordon intervened, grabbing Noah and pulling him out of the way before the excitable second-year player could escalate the situation.

"I'm happy with our overall effort, even though we did some things throughout the game when we had a couple mental lapses," said Gordon. "We left everything out on the floor."

Gordon, 26, is a veteran presence on a team of NBA novices. Going into the game, his 23 playoff appearances were one more than the rest of Chicago's starting five had combined. His performance last night was particularly important, given the subpar game of Derrick Rose.

The rookie, who had 36 points and 11 assists in his playoff debut, picked up two early fouls and didn't score until the 7:15 mark of the second quarter. He finished with 10 points and 7 assists.

Despite the win, allowing back-to-back games of 36 and 42 points by Rose and Gordon didn't sit well with Celtics players.

"The shots Gordon was taking, I mean he was playing like the MVP of the league tonight," said Perkins.

Added Paul Pierce, "We have to do a better job collectively as a unit to slow down their backcourt."

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