The two teams have played a pair of games that were decided in overtime, and another was decided by three points on a late shot by Ray Allen. The winner Tuesday will be in the driver’s seat heading into Game 6 on Thursday.
They were just one defensive stop away from setting up a perfect scenario in the opening round of the NBA playoffs.
All the Boston Celtics had to do on Sunday afternoon was prevent the Chicago Bulls from hitting a 3-pointer in the final nine seconds of overtime.
Had they accomplished that, the Celtics would have opened a 3-1 series lead, could have eliminated the Bulls at home Tuesday and gotten so much needed rest until at least Saturday.
Ben Gordon spoiled that scenario by hitting a 3-pointer with 4.5 seconds remaining, and the Bulls were able to parlay that into a 121-118 victory in double overtime to even things at 2-2.
As a result, the two teams will be battling for the upper hand in the series when Game 5 takes place at the TD Banknorth Garden with Game 6 to follow in Chicago on Thursday night.
Instead of having firm control of the Bulls, the Celtics are in what is now a best-of-three series.
“We’re making it hard on ourselves,’’ said center Kendrick Perkins on Monday afternoon. “You can’t go out in one game, Game 3, and beat a team by (21), and then, all of a sudden, come back and lose to the team by three.
“I mean, the urgency wasn’t there in Game 4. It just takes focus. Everybody’s got to be on the same page. We’ve got our work cut out for us.’’
History is on the Celtics’ side as the home team in Game 5 of a 2-2 series has gone 54-5 since 1984 when 16 teams were in the postseason and a 2-2-1-1-1 format was in use. The winner of a fifth game in a tied series has won 121 of 145 series in NBA history.
History, however, doesn’t mean much in this opening-round matchup that has featured three superb games and a blowout by the Celtics. Games 1, 2 and 4 were decided by a total of eight points with the first and last games going past regulation. The Celtics had not played two overtime games in one round since 1988 against the Detroit Pistons in the Eastern Conference finals.
“You can look at it a lot of ways,’’ said Coach Doc Rivers. “This series is even and we still have home court, so there’s a lot of positives there.
“Like someone said the other day, this series could be over, it could be a sweep, or it could be 3-1 the other way. That’s how close this series has been. There’s only been one game we won for sure. Other than that, every game could have gone the other way.’’
The weary Celtics did little except for watch some film on Monday as Rajon Rondo (55:08), Paul Pierce (52.08), Ray Allen (46:32) and Glen Davis (45:15) played long minutes the day before.
Only Eddie House and Brian Scalabrine played more than seven minutes off the bench in Game 4.
“The overtimes haven’t helped us,’’ said Rivers. “They have a deeper bench right now and we knew that with all the injuries we have.
“We knew this was going to be hard coming into this series. When you’re shorthanded (without Kevin Garnett and Leon Powe), it’s going to be hard. But every game, we’ve had a chance to win and we feel we should have won.’’
Rivers’ point about the Bulls’ depth is a bit off target since Coach Vinny Del Negro used only Kirk Hinrich and Brad Miller off the bench in Game 4 with Lindsey Hunter making a 15-second cameo.
Chicago, which is playing without the injured Luol Deng in the series, also has some concerns about Gordon.
He suffered a hamstring strain in the second quarter on Sunday, and an MRI was negative. Gordon is expected to start, but whether the injury affects the Bulls’ top scorer remains to be seen.
“I was driving and I heard something pop,’’ Gordon told reporters. “It’s sore. Hopefully, it’s not too serious. I’m going to do what I need to do.’’
The Celtics are hoping for an improved defensive performance on their own court and will be looking to avoid the mistakes that cost them in the end of Game 4. The team that coasted past the Bulls in Game 3 could not follow it up and deliver a near-knockout punch in Game 4.
“Life enters into sports. It’s human nature,’’ said Rivers. “It’s great to think you can. If it was that easy, everyone would do it. Every game is mental focus, whether you have it or not.
“Sometimes you’re good enough to get away with it and sometimes you’re not. Sometimes when you have it, you’re almost unbeatable. I know when we have great focus and energy, we’re a really good basketball team.’’