BOSTON — Joakim Noah sat in stunned silence late Monday night, ice packs on both knees, a blank stare on his sour face.
The Bulls had just lost a 118-115 gut-wrencher to the Celtics, tying their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series at a game apiece when Ray Allen sank a 25-foot three-pointer over Noah's outstretched arms with two seconds left.
Allen's shot capped a shootout for the ages with fellow Connecticut alumnus Ben Gordon, and this still-fresh moment looked like it might haunt Noah forever—or at least until Game 3 Thursday night at the United Center.
"Tough loss, tough loss," Noah said, staring off into the distance. "Good shot. Good shot. Good shot. But we'll be ready on Thursday. We'll be ready on Thursday."
Those repeats aren't typos. Allen's shot had that stunning of an effect, emblematic of a defending NBA champion refusing to fall into an 0-2 hole at home.
The loss left the Bulls shaking their heads at a missed opportunity and angrily glaring at a box score that showed a 50-36 rebounding disadvantage and a 32-12 Celtics edge in second-chance points.
"I loved the grit and toughness of our team, but you can't expect to win when you get outrebounded like that," coach Vinny Del Negro said.
For the second straight game, the Bulls were out of timeouts in the final seconds, so after Allen's shot—which capped a 30-point game and a 28-point second half after his 1-for-12 performance in Game 1— Tyrus Thomas had to heave a three-quarters-court desperation shot.
Del Negro said he had instructed the Bulls to run a high screen-and-roll for Derrick Rose in the Celtics' final timeout with 12.3 seconds left. "Get it in, depending on where the clock was," Del Negro said. "There obviously wasn't a lot of time."
One game after Rose put on a dazzling display, he and Kirk Hinrich succumbed to early foul trouble that even brought seldom-used veteran Lindsey Hunter off the bench. Rose finished with 10 points, seven assists and six rebounds in 34 minutes.
But Gordon found one of his patented zones, finishing with six three-pointers and 42 points. Twenty-five of those came in the second half during his duel with Allen.
"It was fun," Gordon said. "It felt like we were at UConn in the summertime playing pickup. I knew he was going to break out eventually. We just didn't have an answer for him at the end.
"I was just like in a zone. I really don't remember what happened. I just tried to keep getting good looks."
Gordon scored the Bulls' final 12 points, hitting most jumpers over two defenders. His jumper over Allen with 46.9 seconds left pushed the Bulls ahead 113-112 before Allen countered with a three-pointer 21 seconds later.
Gordon struck again with a 16-footer to tie the game at 115-115 with 12.3 seconds left. Allen then ran Hinrich off a screen and floated his game-winner over Noah.
"This is the time of year you love to be in," Allen said.
Celtics guard Rajon Rondo is loving it, finishing with a triple-double: 19 points, 16 assists and 12 rebounds.
And now the Bulls are in a series—and a physical one at that.
Kendrick Perkins body-blocked John Salmons less than two minutes after tipoff. Glen Davis smothered Gordon on a fast break. Thomas followed through while fouling Allen. Noah drew a technical for taunting.
"It was fun," Rose said. "Ray just hit a great shot over a 7-footer fading back. If that's not the shot you want him to take, I don't know what is."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times