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Bulls 128, Celtics 127 (3 OTs)

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Raging Bulls drop Celtics, force Game 7

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By Frank Dell'Apa
Globe Staff / May 1, 2009
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CHICAGO - The gods of overtime got some payback on the Celtics last night. Or maybe just the odds of overtime are playing catch-up.

In their first triple-overtime game in the playoffs in 33 years, the Celtics fell to the Bulls, 128-127, and extended their first-round playoff series to tomorrow's climactic Game 7 in Boston.

This is the first NBA playoff series to include four OT games, and Game 6 showed once again how evenly matched the teams have become, and also how the Celtics' killer instincts seem to have deserted them.

Ray Allen scored 51 points, converting a team playoff record nine 3-pointers, including one to tie the score, 118-118, sending things to a third overtime.

The Celtics lost three starters - Glen Davis, Kendrick Perkins, and Paul Pierce - to disqualifications, and squandered chances to make an improbable rally in the final OT.

Brad Miller provided the deciding point with a free throw with 28.3 seconds remaining. The Celtics cut the deficit to 1 as Rajon Rondo followed his own miss 4.6 seconds later. Then the Celtics had two chances to recover. After Kirk Hinrich missed a layup on an inbounds play, the Celtics called time out with 16.7 seconds to go. Derrick Rose blocked Rondo's shot, then was fouled by Brian Scalabrine with 3.2 seconds on the clock. Rose missed both free throws, and Rondo launched a shot off the backboard at the buzzer.

The Celtics had seemed on the verge of concluding the series with an 18-point run over a five-minute span late in regulation. But they squandered a 99-91 advantage, Miller providing the tying points on a 3-pointer with 1:06 remaining and a layup with 29 seconds left.

"With an 8-point lead, if you're a good defensive team, all you have to do is play defense," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "You don't have to score again. You literally don't have to score again. But we didn't do that.

"We just stopped playing. We had a chance to close it out. We saw that score and we just stopped playing. Give them credit, they made a lot of big shots. Brad Miller was their savior. The 3-point shot we should have never given up, that was our breakdown, then the drive. I thought those were the two biggest plays because it gave them hope again, and it was too quick. He was the hero of the game.

"We let a team shoot, again, close to 50 percent against us. We're supposed to be a defensive team - we've got to be better defensively. I know we scored 127 points; that's dandy. But if we're going to win, we're going to win with our defense."

Game 5 (a 106-104 Celtics win in OT) was decided on a late play involving a hard foul by Rondo on Miller. This contest started out with an altercation involving Hinrich and Rondo. And Pierce took a hit that required stitches in his nose in the third quarter.

The Celtics took the lead in all three overtimes. But unlike their 128-126 win over the Phoenix Suns in the 1976 NBA Finals, they could not hold on.

Glen Davis's 3-point play made it 121-120 with 3:41 remaining in the third OT, but that would be the last time the Celtics held the advantage. Chicago went ahead on a Rose follow and Hinrich foul shot. Allen tied the score, 123-123. The Celtics made two stops on Rose. But Joakim Noah stole the ball from Pierce, dunking for a 3-point play and a 3-point lead with 35.5 seconds remaining, Pierce fouling out on the play. Eddie House cut the deficit to 1, then Miller made it 128-125 with 28.3 seconds to go as Davis fouled out.

"I was upset with the turnover," Pierce said. "I saw [Scalabrine] wide open and I should have taken my time with the pass.

"It's Game 7 and we'll be ready. It comes down to who has the most toughness, who has the most heart. We know what they are trying to do and they know what we are trying to do. Whoever has the most heart and toughness will win."

The Celtics seemed to have both the will to win and the ability to back it up as Pierce's second-chance 3-pointer made it 99-91 with 3:39 left in regulation.

The Celtics, who trailed, 88-76, pulled within 91-86 with 8:01 remaining, and the Bulls called a timeout but failed to score on seven successive possessions.

But once Boston got up by 8, Rondo squandered a chance to increase the lead after drawing Miller's fifth personal foul. He missed two free throws with 3:01 remaining, then missed a jumper following a Rose drive, which ended a 6:03 Chicago scoreless skein. John Salmons drew Perkins's fifth foul and completed a 3-point play to cut the Bulls' deficit to 3 with 2:08 to go.

Allen made it 101-96 with 1:49 left. Salmons launched an airball, but the Celtics' Tony Allen missed twice, leading to a Miller three and a tying layup. The Celtics called time out with Miller down under the basket and 29.7 seconds to play. Pierce missed a jumper out of the timeout, Rose rebounding with 4.4 seconds on the clock. Pierce then pressured Ben Gordon into a buzzer airball.

"All of a sudden, we looked up and it was tied up," Pierce said. "When you have a team on the ropes like that, you've got to take it from them. We should have been a lot more aggressive."

Said Rivers, "It's Game 7. We've earned the right to play at our place. We'd rather not have it. That's why all those little games in the regular season that you win, that's what they're for, so you can play at home.

"No positives - we lost. We had our chances. It was great. I guess the only positive is, and this is a positive throughout the series, we're a tough team. No matter who goes out, no matter who gets injured, no matter who fouls out, we're a tough team."

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