- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 2, 2009

CHICAGO | Between the jaw-dropping individual displays, crisp team play and dramatic twists, it’s only fitting that this thrilling first-round series between the Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls comes to a seventh game.

And what a way to get there.

The Bulls prevailed 128-127 in triple overtime Thursday to tie the series at three games and send it back to Boston for the finale on Saturday night, with the winner advancing to play Orlando.

“If I had to just sit back and I wasn’t a player and think about these games, this is great for the fans,” Boston’s Paul Pierce said. “Everybody is getting their money’s worth.”

And the defending champions are certainly getting a run for theirs.

A league record four games have gone to overtime, with another decided in the closing seconds of regulation, but somehow, these teams managed to trump all that Thursday.

Now, the Celtics are trying to avoid elimination after watching an eight-point lead in the fourth quarter disappear and wasting a 51-point effort by Ray Allen that ranks among the greatest postseason displays in the storied franchise’s history.

The Bulls, meanwhile, have a chance to become the first seventh seed to knock off the second seed since New York beat Miami in 1998, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

John Salmons scored 35 points and Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose came through with two big plays in the third OT to pace Chicago.

Noah stole Pierce’s pass and broke the other way for a dunk, got fouled and finished the three-point play to give the Bulls a 126-123 lead with 35.5 seconds left. Rose, who scored 28, blocked Rajon Rondo’s potential go-ahead shot with 7.9 seconds remaining, and Chicago hung on.

“Coming into this series, I don’t think anyone imagined it to turn out like this,” Chicago’s Kirk Hinrich said. “We thought we could be competitive, but for the games to be such crazy, back-and-forth action, it’s really incredible.”

So what’s next? Quadruple overtime?

Kevin Garnett returning a la Willis Reed or, better for the Celtics, delivering 20 points and 10 rebounds? That apparently won’t happen, the Boston Globe reported Friday on its Web site. In a text message, Celtics president Danny Ainge told the paper that Garnett is out for the playoffs with his knee injury.

But that quadruple OT scenario? Maybe, the way this series has gone.

“We didn’t think it was going to be a walk in the park,” Allen said.

Now, the Bulls have a chance to knock off the defending champs. Not bad, considering they struggled for much of the season, but the trade that brought Salmons and Brad Miller from Sacramento certainly helped.

“If they had this team for the full year, they’d be a top four seed,” Boston’s Kendrick Perkins said.

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