The Bulls are battling for a playoff spot. The defending NBA champion Celtics are chasing greatness.
The drama that unfolded at the United Center Tuesday night belied the disparity between those goals.
When the Bulls' 127-121 victory ended, their seventh straight home triumph pushed them one-half game ahead of the Bucks for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot.
And a victory over the defending NBA champions certainly can boost confidence down the stretch.
"It definitely can," John Salmons said, when asked if such gut-check victories can have carry-over effects. "At home, we've had games like this where we beat teams people didn't think we could beat. We just have to keep it going on the road."
On one of those rare nights where everybody contributed, Salmons' effort stood out.
His career-high-tying 38 points included a reverse slam with 2 minutes 28 seconds left that gave the Bulls the lead for good in a nip-and-tuck fourth quarter that featured seven lead changes and five ties.
Paul Pierce and Kendrick Perkins then missed on the ensuing Celtics possession, and Derrick Rose, who scored nine of his 11 points in the fourth, capped a speedy drive with a lefty layup for a four-point lead.
Pierce, who led Boston with 37 points, sandwiched two baskets around a Brad Miller score. But Salmons again victimized Ray Allen to convert a conventional three-point play with 1:02 left.
"John was spectacular," coach Vinny Del Negro said.
Pierce then made two free throws to make it 122-119. But Miller, who had 13 of his 21 points and six of his 14 rebounds in the fourth, grabbed a huge offensive rebound of a Rose miss and fed Salmons for the game-sealing layin with 29.8 seconds left.
"We finally made plays down the stretch," Del Negro said. "I liked our resiliency."
Miller sported a large welt on the side of his face afterward, courtesy of his former Kings teammate Mikki Moore's elbow. But Miller also sported a grin, mindful of the purgatory he escaped to be chasing a playoff spot.
"We showed a lot of character," Miller said. "Everybody contributed."
Indeed, Tyrus Thomas attacked the rim early to score 14 of his 18 points in the first quarter. Ben Gordon scored 15 of his 17 points in the second half to help thwart a Celtics team playing without the injured Kevin Garnett. Boston also lost big man Leon Powe to a first-quarter knee injury and Perkins and Moore battled foul trouble with Moore fouling out.
It was entertaining throughout for the sellout crowd of 22,107, featuring a wild fourth with scores on 12 straight possessions.
"The crowd was so into it," Salmons said. "It was just such a fun game to play."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times