Celtics win wild series against Bulls

Jim Fenton

The defending champion Boston Celtics are alive in the NBA playoffs, barely surviving an opening round to remember.

A wild and thrilling series with the seventh-seeded Chicago Bulls came to a fitting conclusion Saturday night with a Game 7 that had a capacity crowd at the TD Banknorth Garden on its feet to the very end.

The Celtics survived a strong comeback bid by the Bulls, holding on for a 109-99 victory to finish a series that featured four overtime games, including one that went to double overtime and another that went to triple overtime.

Boston, which won a pair of Game 7s a year ago on the way to the title, will jump right back into action Monday night, opening the Eastern Conference semifinal round against the Orlando Magic at the Garden.

The Celtics, who held a 13-point halftime lead after going on a 22-2 run to end the second quarter, had to fight off the Bulls down the stretch to improve to 17-3 in Game 7s at home.

Ray Allen (23 points) led the Celtics offense while Paul Pierce added 20 despite making only 6 of 17 shots.

Eddie House, silent for most of the series, provided the Celtics with a huge lift off the bench, scoring 16 points on 5-for-5 shooting, including four from 3-point range.

Glen Davis (15 points) and Kendrick Perkins (14 points, 13 rebounds) were also in double figures while Rajon Rondo had 11 assists.

The Celtics won despite another offensive outburst by Ben Gordon (33, including 15 of 15 from the foul line).

After taking a 52-39 led into the second half, the Celtics saw the advantage trimmed to 78-72 after three quarters, and the Bulls kept the pressure on throughout the fourth quarter.

Chicago, getting strong performances from Kirk Hinrich (16) and rookie Derrick Rose (18), had the Boston lead trimmed to 89-86 with 5:39 remaining when Gordon made a pair of foul shots.

That was as close as the Bulls would get, though they were within striking distance going down the stretch.

Two Gordon foul shots with 2:45 to play made it 93-88, but House gave the Celtics breathing room with a 3-pointer with 2:29 remaining. He avoided a charging Gordon in front of the Bulls’ bench and drilled the long-range shot for a 96-88 lead.

Gordon and Allen exchanged two foul shots, and Hinrich hit a 3-pointer to get the Bulls within 98-93 with 1:42 to go. The Celtics then got a pair of foul shots each from Allen and Pierce, and a fast-break by Allen during into a three-point play when he converted a pass from House with 36.6 seconds to go, making it 105-97.

After opening a 13-point halftime lead, the Celtics had the advantage sliced in half entering the fourth quarter, 78-72.

Chicago’s backcourt of Gordon (23) and Rose (18) accounted for more than half of the Bulls’ points through three quarters.

The Celtics had an 11-point lead with 1:10 to go in the period after Rondo made a pair of foul shots, but the defense let down. Joakim Noah hit two foul shots with 59.7 seconds to go and Gordon made a 3-pointer with 21.5 seconds remaining to get the Bulls within striking distance.

The Celtics went on a 22-2 run in the final 7:39 of the first half to take control after falling behind by nine points at the start of the second quarter.

Boston turned to its stingy defense, allowing only a pair of foul shots during that stretch, and the Bulls made just 3 of 14 shots in the quarter. The outburst allowed the Celtics to grab a 52-38 halftime lead.

Eddie House provided a spark off the bench, hitting two 3-pointers, and Mikki Moore came in and added four points in the final two minutes after Perkins picked up his third foul. 

The Celtics got off to a slow start in the opening minutes, falling behind, 9-2, with just 2:02 gone and missing 10 of their first 14 shots.

The seven-point hole was the largest deficit the Celtics faced in the quarter as they managed to draw even at 18 before trailing, 27-23, after one quarter.

Gordon had 12 of his points in the period while fellow guard Rose added eight in the first Game 7 of his career. The Celtics made only 35 percent of their shots (9-for-26) with Allen and Pierce getting seven points each.

Rumors making the rounds since the end of Game 6 was that Kevin Garnett was going to be in uniform for the finale, but they proved to be unfounded.

“You guys have said it all the last two days. It’s amazing,’’ Rivers told the media. “I thought someone was going to report they saw Big Foot and Sasquatch.’’

The Enterprise