During the NBA All-Star festivities in February, Allen Iverson said he really wasn't concerned about the Bulls' bid to overtake his Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
"I am not worried about the Bulls," the high-scoring guard said. "We are more concerned with moving up in the standings for the seventh spot."
Maybe he will start paying attention Wednesday night, because after beating Indiana 102-96 Tuesday night in the United Center, the Bulls are only a half-game behind the 76ers for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
With eight games left this season, including back-to-back meetings Wednesday in Philadelphia and Saturday at the United Center, Iverson might want to take notice.
"It's a playoff game for us," Bulls guard Chris Duhon said of the matchup in Philadelphia. "It's probably one of the most important games of the year for us. If we can't find a way to muster it up, then we have to question our competitive spirits."
The Bulls nearly squandered an opportunity to pick up a full game on the 76ers when they trailed the Pacers by 17 points in the fourth quarter. But they rallied behind Ben Gordon's 16 points in the fourth after Cleveland had routed the 76ers 124-91. Gordon, on his 23rd birthday, led all scorers with 23 points.
The Bulls extended their winning streak to three games and have won five of their last six. The Pacers dropped their fifth straight and saw their lead over the Bulls for the seventh playoff spot drop to 1 1/2 games.
"This is a win we are grateful to have. It was a great comeback," said coach Scott Skiles, who was aware that the 76ers were losing big when his Bulls took the floor in the second half.
The Bulls and Pacers exchanged leads nine times in the first half before Indiana emerged with a 55-54 lead at halftime.
The third quarter, the bane of the Bulls' entire season, saw the Pacers outscore them 26-17 to take an 81-71 lead into the fourth quarter.
The Bulls trailed 90-73 in the fourth quarter before mounting a comeback to pull within 92-88 on a Gordon three-pointer.
Michael Sweetney connected on a layup with 4 minutes 5 seconds to go to make the score 92-90. A Gordon steal and breakaway layup tied the game 92-92 a minute later.
"We have played better at the end of the games," Skiles said earlier. "We have tended to make some pretty good plays on both ends of the floor when the game is on the line." Following a Stephen Jackson basket that gave Indiana a 94-92 lead, Gordon hit a three-pointer with 1:51 remaining and a 95-94 Bulls lead. Jeff Foster answered for the Pacers to make it 96-95. Another improbable, awkward Gordon basket put the Bulls ahead again, 97-96.
"I just lined it up and it went in," Gordon said. "I was playing poorly most of the game (four turnovers), so I tried to muster up a good effort."
Jermaine O'Neal missed a pair of free throws with 53.6 seconds left that could have given Indiana the lead again. Then Andres Nocioni connected on a drive with 32.1 seconds left for a 99-96 lead before the Pacers called timeout.
Indiana failed to inbound the ball within five seconds following the timeout, giving the ball back to the Bulls. Then Gordon nailed another three-pointer with 16.4 seconds left for the 102-96 final.
Gordon's heroics impressed Pacers coach Rick Carlisle.
"In the fourth it started with that three from the left corner," he said. "Then he shook loose a couple of times. We knew he could get unbelievably hot. Until then, we had them under control. That was big for them."
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