During Sunday afternoon's Game 4, the Boston Celtics had three players score at least 20 points and four players grab at least seven rebounds. Usually that's a recipe for success, but today it was all in vain.
The Chicago Bulls played with the Celtics step-for-step and also had three 20-point scorers of their own, as well as three players with at least 10 boards. Those performances helped lead the Bulls to a series-tying victory and guarantee themselves at least one more home game this season.
Ray Allen hit a game-tying three-pointer for the Celtics with 9.8 seconds remaining in regulation to send the game to overtime and give them hope of a 3-1 series lead. Then Ben Gordon did the same for the Bulls (trailing 110-107) with 4.5 seconds left in OT to send the game to double-overtime and give Chicago another chance at evening the series.
Ben Gordon hit big shot after big shot to send the series back to Boston knotted at 2-2.Gary Dineen/NBAE/Getty
By the time the second overtime began, Kendrick Perkins and Brian Scalabrine were watching from the bench with six fouls apiece. Those losses turned out to be pivotal, as the Bulls scored four points in the paint and took six free throws in the second overtime to lead them to victory.
As was the case in Game 1, the Celtics will have to sleep tonight dreaming of a game they probably think they should have won.
"It was a tough loss to swallow. We gave ourselves a chance going into the first overtime," said Paul Pierce. "Little things in the playoffs are what kill you. Me not covering Ben Gordon on the 3, coming off the flair, turnovers, things like that. It's a three-game series now and hopefully we can take care of business."
Gordon was fouled with 9.8 seconds remaining in the first overtime and went to the line with the chance to tie the score at 108-108. Instead, as he was recovering from a free fall to the floor when he was fouled, Gordon missed long on the first free throw attempt. He made the second to cut the Celtics lead to 108-107.
At that point, it seemed like the game was very much in Boston's hand. It got even better less than a second later, when Allen, a 95% free throw shooter, was sent to the line for two shots. He drained both and extended the Celtics lead to 110-107 with 9.0 seconds to play.
But just as Allen had done five minutes prior, Gordon was ready to give his team another five minutes of basketball.
Chicago gave their clutch shooter the ball at the top of the key and allowed him to make a move on Pierce. He dribbled to his right and created just enough space from Pierce, who was trying to foul him, to fire up one of the biggest shots of his career. He nailed the three-pointer with 4.5 seconds left to tie the game and left Celtics fans wondering why Pierce didn't foul Gordon and send him to the line for two free throws rather than allow the game-tying attempt.
"Yes, we always foul," Doc Rivers said of his team's strategy on the play. "But even when you screw it up, they've still got to hit the shot and Ben Gordon made a hell of a shot."
With that, the game went to double-overtime and the C's were forced to play with only two true bigs, Glen Davis and Mikki Moore. Essentially, they were left with only one big, as Moore saw only 0.7 seconds of play in the final period.
The Bulls came out with the momentum and Gordon drilled quick jumper to give the Bulls a two-point advantage. The teams went scoreless for the next 2:10 until John Salmons finished a textbook fast break by Chicago to put them up 114-110 with 2:35 remaining.
The teams then traded dunks on back-to-back possessions, with Boston's coming from Davis and Chicago's by Joakim Noah. The Bulls' second-year center then added a free throw with 35.0 seconds remaining to give the Bulls a 117-112 lead.
Then Pierce came to life and scored six consecutive Boston points bring his team within one point, at 119-118 with 19.2 seconds left. On Chicago's ensuing inbounds pass, Pierce almost came up with a steal, but he was called for a foul and Salmons hit two free throws. Pierce's three-point attempt with less than a second remaining was tipped by Salmons and with that, the series was tied at 2-2.
Neither team could pull away in regulation in a game that featured 28 lead changed and 12 ties.
Boston's Rajon Rondo, Pierce and Allen combined for 82 points, 25 rebounds and 15 assists. Rondo led the way with yet another triple-double, finishing with 25 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists.
But Chicago's top players had an answer all game long. The Bulls' seven-player rotation (Lindsey Hunter was their eighth player to see the court, but he played only 15 seconds) finished with three 20-point scorers and another with 18. Derrick Rose led the way as he flirted with a triple-double as well, finishing with 23 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists. Gordon had 22 on the night, Salmons had 20 and Kirk Hinrich had 18.
Throughout regulation, it was a full-blown battle between two of the NBA's top young point guards. Today, they may have proven that they are the future of the league at the position.
"It's just fun out there when we are playing against one another," Rose said of the point guard battle.
With the series now knotted at two, we we get to see that showdown at least twice more. We now have a three-game series on our hands, with two of those games scheduled to be played in the TD Banknorth Garden. The Celtics are well-versed in the long series, as they went at least six games in each of the four rounds of their championship run a year ago.
Monday will be another day of preparation, and if all goes as planned, Tuesday will bring another win. In the meantime, the Celtics will have to deal with the fact that they let a 3-1 series lead slip through their fingers and are now are now forced to prepare for at least two more games against these pesky Bulls.
"We have to go back to the drawing table and go back home and get a win," Davis said. "It's important that we get a win at home and then come back and win here."