If there's any justice in the Bulls' universe, Norm Van Lier spent his Sunday afternoon high above the United Center, maybe sharing a drink with his friend Jimi Hendrix, and smiling at what transpired in the new Madhouse on Madison.
Van Lier's widow, Susan, presented the honorary game ball and then the Bulls and Celtics engaged in one of those knock-down, drag-out playoff battles for the ages that Van Lier so loved.
The Bulls overcame costly missed free throws and turnovers and a five-point deficit with 2 minutes left in the first overtime to win with heart and hustle, qualities that defined Van Lier.
A ridiculous three-pointer by Ben Gordon that forced the second overtime didn't hurt either, which is why Gordon answered quickly when asked where this game ranked in his five-year career.
"This is No. 1, easy," Gordon said. "This is the biggest game of our careers. This says we never give up. We have a lot of fight on our side."
A lot of heroes, too.
Gordon played through a strained left hamstring to score 22 points, including his three-pointer over Paul Pierce with 4.5 seconds left in the first overtime and a 17-foot jumper on the first possession of the second as the Bulls never trailed in the final five minutes.
Derrick Rose flirted with a quadruple double, tallying 23 points, 11 rebounds, nine assists and, ahem, seven turnovers in another classic battle with Rajon Rondo, who did have a triple double.
Rose scored 13 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter, almost single-handedly winning the game on a flurry of relentless drives before Ray Allen forced the first extra session with a three-pointer with 9.8 seconds remaining.
Kirk Hinrich gutted out 43 minutes and offset a critical missed free throw in the first overtime by tirelessly chasing around Allen and Pierce, the latter of which scored 29 points but shot 9-for-24.
And John Salmons overcame an 0-for-6 start and sitting for most of the fourth quarter to hit a huge three-pointer in the first overtime and then score six of his 20 points in the second, including two clutch free throws with 16.9 seconds left.
Oh, and Salmons blocked Pierce's potential game-tying three-pointer with 0.8 seconds left to preserve the 3 hour, 33 minute marathon that featured 28 lead changes and 12 ties.
"We should be proud with the way we bounced back after a humiliating Game 3," Hinrich said.
The Bulls led 95-93 on Gordon's runner with 31.2 seconds left in regulation and, following a Glen Davis miss, had Tyrus Thomas at the line. But he made only the second of two, giving Allen his chance to reprise his Game 2 game-winning three-pointer.
On the play, Davis screened off Joakim Noah and Rose, who had switched with Salmons onto Allen. Rose then missed a driving right-handed at the regulation buzzer.
In the first overtime, the Bulls trailed 105-100 when Salmons knocked down a three-pointer with 1:47 to play.
"I haven't been shooting the ball well," Salmons said. "My teammates were keeping me up, telling me the next one would go in."
Gordon committed a costly turnover but Salmons stripped Pierce and fed a streaking Hinrich, who drew a clear-path foul from Brian Scalabrine. But Hinrich only split his free throws and Gordon's banker rimmed out, leaving the Bulls down 107-106.
Pierce split two free throws with 18.9 seconds left, but Gordon, who landed hard on his back as Davis fouled him, did the same nine seconds later.
When Allen made two free throws with nine seconds left, the Bulls needed a miracle. Gordon delivered.
"I got a short memory," Gordon said. "I'm able to focus more when the game gets tighter. [ Vinny Del Negro] drew up a great misdirection. I flared and wasn't open right away so I took one dribble to create space and it felt good."
The Bulls felt even better when Gordon scored to open the second overtime, Salmons followed with a reverse layup and their defense prevented Boston from scoring until Eddie House drove and dished to Davis for a dunk that made it 114-112 with 1:44 remaining.
Down 117-112, Pierce converted a three-point play with 27.3 seconds left. Salmons made two free throws, but Pierce countered with a three-pointer. Salmons made two more free throws and then blocked Pierce's final attempt.
By the end, people were downright giddy. Fans hooted and howled as they spilled onto Madison. Noah turned an oncourt postgame interview into a monologue with fans, grabbing the microphone to thank them and grinning wildly.
"This team has a lot of heart," Hinrich said. "We know it's going to be tough going back to The [Boston] Garden. But we'll never give up."
Chicago Bulls beat Boston Celtics 121-118
Double-overtime win one Norm Van Lier would have loved
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