Rondo, Perkins, Pierce big enough three for Celtics

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BOSTON – Kevin Garnett was in street clothes. Ray Allen fouled out. The Boston Celtics’ Big Three was down to one, and Paul Pierce was ready.

BOSTON – Kevin Garnett was in street clothes. Ray Allen fouled out. The Boston Celtics’ Big Three was down to one, and Paul Pierce was ready.

The MVP of last year’s NBA finals scored 26 points, hitting one jumper to tie the game at the end of regulation and three more in the final 77 seconds of overtime on Tuesday night to help the Celtics beat the Chicago Bulls 106-104 and take a 3-2 lead in their best-of-seven playoff series.

“I just thought when Ray fouled out, it was time for me to really step up,” said Pierce, who scored 12 points in the 10 minutes after Allen left the game. “Better late than never.”

Rajon Rondo scored 28 points with 11 assists and eight rebounds, and Kendrick Perkins had 16 points, 19 rebounds and seven blocks for Boston.

The Celtics could finish the Bulls off in Chicago on Thursday in Game 6; if not, the decisive seventh game would be in Boston on Saturday.

Ben Gordon scored 26 and Joakim Noah had 11 points and 17 rebounds for Chicago, but Brad Miller missed the potential game-tying free throws with two seconds left in overtime after Rondo fouled him to prevent an easy layup.

“Paul Pierce was unbelievable,” Noah said. “Guys are hitting crazy shot after crazy shot. It’s all about who’s going to make that shot at the end of the game. We had our chances, and that’s what makes it so tough. But we’ll be back: I still feel that we can win the series.”

It was the third time in five games the teams have needed overtime, a surprising first-round struggle for the defending NBA champions.

This time, they did it with two of the Big Three on the bench: Garnett is out for what could be the entire playoff run with strained ligaments in his right knee, and Allen – who hit the game-winning 3-pointer in Game 2 – fouled out with 5:27 left in regulation.

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In photo: Boston Celtics’ Kevin Garnett, right, has words for Chicago Bulls’ Ben Gordon during a timeout in a first-round NBA basketball playoff game in Boston Tuesday, April 28, 2009.

Copyright 2009 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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