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Rob Peterson

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Celtics taste defeat in Windy City

By Rob Peterson, NBA.com
Posted Apr 27 2009 9:54AM

CHICAGO -- While his professional career has taken him across the country, Celtics coach Doc Rivers remains connected to the Chicagoland area. He grew up here, rooting for the Bulls and the White Sox and much of his immediate family still lives here.

Returning to Chicago, however, before the Playoffs were over was the last thing he wanted to do.

Instead of capitalizing on numerous chances to put away Game 4 at the United Center and put a chokehold on their first round series with the Bulls, the Celtics let one slip away on Sunday as Chicago won a 121-118 thriller to tie the series at two games apiece.

Now, after the series shifts back to Boston for Game 5 on Tuesday, (7 p.m. ET, TNT), the teams will return to Chicago for Game 6 on Thursday. For the short-handed Celtics, who are without Kevin Garnett, Leon Powe and for the last 11:13 minutes of game time on Sunday, Kendrick Perkins, fatigue and the scant amount of time between games could become a factor for the defending champs.

On Sunday, point guard Rajon Rondo, who had his second triple-double of the series with 25 points, 11 boards and 11 assists, played 55 minutes, Paul Pierce played 52 and Ray Allen and Glen Davis each logged at least 45. Rivers won't make excuses.

"There's no reason to worry about it, because it is what it is," Rivers said. "We're short-handed in a lot of ways, and we knew that going into it. That's why this one would have been so nice.

"Hell, maybe we like Chicago a lot and want to come back. The pizza is freaking good."

That it is. And Rivers is right in the sense the Windy City affords a connoisseur a lot of delicious deep-dish options. But as many options as one has here in Chicago, it can't match the number of chances the Celtics had to put this one away.

No squandered opportunity, however, was as infuriating to the Celtics as the one that let Ben Gordon tie the score at 110 and send the game into a second OT.

With a foul to give, the Celtics neglected not only to foul John Salmons, who had his back to the basket, they also neglected to switch on the Bulls' screen, giving Gordon just enough space to can a clean look at a 24-foot jumper with 4.3 seconds left in the first overtime.

"We always foul," Rivers said of that situation, "but even when you screw it up, they've still got to hit the shot. And Ben Gordon made a hell of a shot."

After scoring 42 points in Game 2, which included going 6-for-11 from beyond the arc, Gordon -- who finished Game 4 with 22 points -- hadn't hit a 3-pointer since the 7:17 mark of the third quarter in Game 3. As has been noted by both coaches over the course of this extraordinary series, shooters shoot.

"I wasn't open to shoot it right away," Gordon said. "I took one dribble to create some space."

By creating that space, Gordon and the Bulls kept the Celtics from running away with the series. Like a younger sibling who annoys the older one by tagging along, the Bulls have refused to go away. Instead of going back Boston down three games to one, the Bulls are now even with the defending champs.

They could have easily folded up their tents after the ugly Game 3 loss. They could have curled up into a ball and felt sorry for themselves after Allen tied the game at the end of regulation with another 3-point dagger. They could have gone away, mumbling to themselves after Kirk Hinrich and Gordon each missed one of two free throws late in the first overtime.

But with Gordon's shot and by taking control in the second OT, the Bulls showed the Celtics that they too could reach deep and rally. For the Bulls, this game and this win was it.

"This is No. 1, easy," Gordon said of where this win ranks in his career. "This was the biggest game of the year for us, the biggest game of our careers right now. It was a big win for us. It was exciting."

With the exception of Boston's blowout win in Game 3, Games 1, 2 and 4 have been a thrill-a-minute. If the NBA wanted to, they could just slap a "Where Will Amazing Happen Next?" on the previews for Games 5 and 6 and that wouldn't be false advertising in the least.

Yet, despite the heart-pumping action, the Celtics had wished they had used their heads more here on Sunday. They're the champs after all. They believe they need to start playing like it.

"We've done this before," Allen said, "we've been here before, so that's what bothers me so much about this one. We had the opportunities. We should have won this game."

By failing to win, the Celtics have given the Bulls a renewed sense of hope heading into Game 5 in Boston, where the Bulls have already stolen a game.

"Basketball is basketball," Gordon said. "We played pretty well against them in the first two games. We just need to play with that same energy and see what happens."

The Celtics, meanwhile, return to Boston with the knowledge that this is now a three game series with at least one flight back to the Midwest.

"We're not going to cry over spilled milk," Pierce said. "The thing is, you have to move on from this game and not let it deflate us.

"We need to understand why we lost and go back and clean up some stuff, get a win at home and then come back to Chicago."

Where, I hear, the pizza is quite good.

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