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Bulls 121, Celtics 118 (2OT)

Celtics: Double trouble

They fall in two OTs, let Bulls even the series

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By Frank Dell'Apa
Globe Staff / April 27, 2009
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CHICAGO - The Celtics went from Game 3 efficiency experts to fumbling away chance after late-game chance in a 121-118 double-overtime loss to the Chicago Bulls yesterday.

This was the second time the Celtics have lost in overtime in their opening playoff series, now tied, 2-2, going into tomorrow night's Game 5 at TD Banknorth Garden.

"It was a disappointing loss on our part," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "Our execution down the stretch was so poor it was scary."

Ray Allen's 3-pointer with 9.8 seconds left sent the game into overtime tied at 96. The Celtics seemed to be in command after two Allen free throws stretched the lead to 110-107 with 9.0 seconds remaining in the first OT. But Ben Gordon countered with a three out of a timeout 4.5 seconds later.

The Celtics failed to score on their first three possessions in the second OT. And John Salmons hit four successive foul shots to decide the result in the final 26.6 seconds - after the Bulls had been in an 8-for-15 free-throw shooting slump.

Captain Paul Pierce took much of the blame for the defeat - he committed six turnovers and failed to switch in time on Gordon's tying shot.

"Tough one to swallow," Pierce said. "We gave ourselves a chance going into the first overtime. Little things, in the playoffs, are the things that are going to kill you - me not covering the three with Ben Gordon coming off his man. Turnovers. Little things like that.

"So, it's a three-game series now - hopefully we can win at home and close it out [in Chicago]."

The game turned into a battle of attrition, as Celtics Kendrick Perkins and Brian Scalabrine fouled out and Chicago's Brad Miller survived a flagrant foul call reversal early in the fourth quarter only to be disqualified in the first OT.

As in Game 1, when Pierce missed a potential tie-breaking foul shot in the final seconds of regulation, the Celtics controlled their fate in this game.

Rajon Rondo (25 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists, 1 turnover) was again the driving force. Pierce (29 points) and Allen (28) were in position to decide the game. But the Bulls stayed in contention thanks to Derrick Rose (23 points, 11 rebounds, 9 assists) in regulation, then turned to Kirk Hinrich to defend Pierce, Gordon (22 points) to score, and Joakim Noah to provide inspiration in OT.

The Celtics squandered a 5-point lead in the first overtime.

Glen Davis controlled the tip against Noah and grabbed a rebound of a Salmons drive before an Allen basket provided a 105-100 advantage. But the Bulls cut the deficit to 2 on a Salmons 3-pointer out of a timeout before Pierce made it 107-103 with 1:30 remaining. Hinrich cut the Bulls' deficit to 2 six seconds later.

The Celtics then suffered a reversal of fortune that appeared to place the Bulls in control. Pierce lost possession out of a timeout and Scalabrine committed a clear-path foul on Hinrich, who cut the Chicago deficit to 107-106 with a free throw with 26.6 seconds to play.

Davis grabbed another rebound off a missed Gordon drive, Miller departing with 19.5 seconds remaining after committing his sixth foul. Pierce hit one foul shot with 18.9 seconds left, the Bulls calling timeout. Gordon was fouled by Davis, missed the first foul shot, then cut the deficit to 1 with 9.8 seconds to play. Allen free throws made it 110-107 with 9.0 seconds remaining, but then Gordon hit his huge 3-pointer. Rondo's jumper off the dribble was short at the buzzer.

"We always foul," Rivers said of the Celtics' failure to give a foul before Gordon's shot. "But, even when you screw it up, they've still got to hit the shot, and Ben Gordon made a hell of a play."

A Gordon jumper gave Chicago the lead 15 seconds into the second OT. The Celtics missed three shots in a row, then failed to get a shot after Rondo controlled a rebound, a Salmons layup making it 114-110 with 2:35 to play. Davis couldn't convert underneath out of a timeout, then Gordon missed a jumper. Davis dunked off an Eddie House feed to cut the Celtics' deficit to 2. But Noah dunked with 1:26 remaining, blocked an Allen drive, then rebounded a Pierce miss and made a free throw for a 117-112 lead with 35 seconds remaining.

After Pierce cut the deficit to 117-115 with a third-chance 3-point play with 27.3 seconds left, Salmons free throws restored Chicago's 4-point edge. Allen missed out of a timeout, but the Celtics tipped the rebound to Pierce, who made a three with 19.2 seconds to go. Salmons free throws made it 121-118 with 16.9 seconds remaining, then he blocked Pierce's trey attempt just before the buzzer.

"Too late for that," Pierce said of the Celtics' hopes of virtually clinching the series. "We're going to not cry over spilled milk. Move on from this game. Don't let it deflate us. Understand why we lost, go back and clean up just some minor things, go home and get a win before we come back to Chicago.

"We gave ourselves the best opportunity. Ray hitting the big three. We're up 3 with less than 10 seconds to go. If I get out a little sooner on Ben we're up [in the series, 3-1] - we're not, so it's 2-2. Now we've got to move forward."

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