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Bob Ryan

Four quarters aren't enough in this series

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By Bob Ryan
Globe Columnist / April 29, 2009
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Tomorrow night, why not just start the score at 80? Get right to the good stuff, you know?

Throw out that aberrational thing last Thursday and we've had four dazzling, exhausting, and draining exhibitions of NBA greatness in what may have begun as a relatively innocuous 2-7 matchup but has turned into instant history. In 63 years of NBA playoff competition, no teams had ever played three overtime games in one series, of any length. They have now. And we're far from done.

"Well," said Doc Rivers, "we won."

He probably needed to say that out loud in order to reassure himself, half afraid there wouldn't be some officiating adjudication that would bring his Celtics and Vinny Del Negro's Bulls back onto the floor for more basketball.

But no, it really was official. The Celtics really had come from 11 down in the fourth period to get themselves into an OT and Paul Pierce really had hit both the tying shot that created the extra session and three more huge fadeaways in the OT to carry his team to a 106-104 triumph and a 3-2 series lead.

"We had our chances, and that's what makes it tough," sighed Chicago's Joakim Noah. "But we'll be back. We have another chance, so it's a learning experience for all of us. Learning experience is not an excuse because I still feel we can win this series."

The Bulls have no reason to feel otherwise. They did not bring anything close to their A game to this pivotal Game 5, but they took the defending champs into OT in their own building. In their minds, they will play better at home, and as far as Game 7 is concerned, they have already done what the Hawks could not do last year, which is to win a game in Boston.

Things did not exactly look rosy for the champs at the 9:28 mark of the fourth quarter. Ben Gordon had just blocked an Eddie House transition 3-pointer and Brad Miller had just sent Noah in for a layup to cap a 15-2 run and leave the visitors ahead by a 77-66 score. The only Celtic who had scored a point in the previous 5:45 was Glen Davis. The offense was, frankly, in the dumper.

Doc's timeout message? "Slow down. I don't recognize you." Or words to that effect.

Pierce, who had been relatively quiet, got things started by taking it hard to the hoop, and that triggered a Boston surge. Good offense gave birth to good defense and the Celtics began their march back, surviving the controversial exit of Ray Allen via personals with 5:45 left and the Bulls up by 3 at 83-80 (a weird double technical with the 7-foot Miller), and finally tying the game at 91-91 on Pierce's fast-break drive with 1:13 left.

"I thought that stretch was the first time in the entire game that we actually slowed down and played with great patience on offense and trusted each other," Rivers said.

The defense wasn't bad, either.

"In order for us to get to that position," Pierce agreed, "we've got to defend. I mean, I can come down and shoot and score, but if we don't defend, we're not back into the game."

Even after all that good work, the Celtics were trailing by 2 at 93-91 following a 17-footer by Derrick Rose with 16.6 seconds left. Pierce's response was to spin from the foul line and drill that tying 15-footer with 10.5 seconds to go. Ben Gordon was wide right on a jumper and off they went into yet another OT.

You can pretty much sum up the Celtics' OT in two words: "Paul" and "Pierce."

Trailing, 101-100, Pierce maneuvered for a tough fadeaway at 1:17. Up by 1 at 102-101, Pierce maneuvered for a carbon-copy fadeaway at 36.5. The score was tied at 104-104 after Gordon sank three free throws emanating from a foul committed by Tony Allen - Tony played hard and well, but this was not exactly his finest moment - and an isolated Pierce held the ball and held the ball and held the ball before calmly maneuvering for one more killer fadeaway at 3.4.

"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, who has done this before and will undoubtedly do this again.

"It's his shot," agreed Del Negro. "He hit some tough fadeaway shots with a hand in his face. That's what great players do."

The final 3.4 seconds were cloaked in some controversy when Miller took an inbounds pass from Kirk Hinrich and went to the hoop, where Kendrick Perkins blocked his shot as Rajon Rondo hit him hard in the face, drawing blood. With a chance to tie the game, Miller was short on his first attempt - was he woozy? - and had to miss the second one deliberately.

Many observers thought Miller was a dazed individual when he missed that shot, but Del Negro denied it.

"He was bleeding a little bit, but Brad's a tough guy, and when you're a big guy, you don't want a little guard to get you out of the game," Del Negro said.

That "little guard" was once again a certified menace, adding to his growing lore with another spectacular game. Rondo's line last night was 28-8-11, this time including a pair of threes. What the coach liked most, of course, was the hard foul on Miller.

"Great foul by Rondo," Doc said. "You always talk about playoff basketball. No layups. Rondo did it on the very last play, and it won the game for us."

Perkins was another major contender for the Best Supporting prize with 16 points, 19 rebounds, 7 blocks, and, in the upset of the millennium, zero personal fouls. Kendrick Perkins playing 48:20 without a single negative toot?

"He played very smart," acknowledged Rivers. "We talked to Perk. I mean, we just don't have enough bigs. He has to stay on the floor."

Which doesn't mean that when he's on the floor, he has to, you know, stay on the floor. He was a marauder all evening long, playing a truly manly game in the trenches.

The Bulls got big games from Noah (17 rebounds), a hobbled Gordon (26 points), and a stitched-up Hinrich (19), plus solid efforts from Rose (14-8-6) and John Salmons (17 points).

Game 6 is tomorrow night. Chicagoland babysitters should count on a very lucrative evening.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist and host of the Globe's 10.0 on Boston.com. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.

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