76ers down Bulls, Rondo lifts Celtics
PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania - The Philadelphia 76ers rallied to beat the top-seeded Chicago Bulls 79-74 on Friday and gain a 2-1 lead in their best-of-seven Eastern Conference first-round NBA playoff series.
The battered Bulls, already without reigning league Most Valuable Player Derrick Rose, suffered another injury blow as French center Joakim Noah hurt his ankle in the third quarter of the defeat.
After receiving treatment Noah returned to the game briefly but was clearly hobbled and the 76ers closed the game on a 23-5 scoring run.
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said his team, who lost Rose for the rest of the post-season to a torn knee ligament in game one of this series, could only keep fighting.
"When you're down people, you have to play hard and with an edge. We have to get back to that," he said. "You have to claw, scratch, fight, whatever is necessary. That has been a staple all season, more so now than ever. That's how we have to play."
Spencer Hawes scored 21 points to lead the 76ers, who will try to press their advantage when they host game four on Sunday.
Hawes put Philadelphia ahead for good with a jump shot from just inside the three-point line with 2:11 remaining.
Jrue Holiday scored 17 points, Evan Turner had 16 and Lou Williams added 14 off the bench.
"We had some tremendous performances tonight," said Sixers coach Doug Collins. "I'm really proud of Spencer."
Carlos Boozer had 18 points and 10 rebounds to lead the Bulls.
Elsewhere in the East, Rajon Rondo returned with a bang from his one-game ban to score a "triple-double" to lead the Boston Celtics to a 90-84 victory over the Atlanta Hawks.
Rondo scored 17 points with 14 rebounds and 12 assists, his seventh career playoff triple double helping the Celtics take a 2-1 lead over the Hawks in their best-of-seven series.
Rondo, who was suspended for the second game of the Celtics-Hawks series after bumping an official in game one, scored Boston's first four points in over-time and the Celtics didn't trail from there.
Joe Johnson's layup pulled the Hawks within two with 1:45 to play. After both teams failed to score on their next possessions, Rondo broke loose but missed a layup.
Kevin Garnett corralled the rebound for a put-back dunk that stretched Boston's lead to four points and the Celtics added two more free throws to seal the win.
Paul Pierce added 21 points for Boston while Garnett posted a "double-double" with 20 points and 13 rebounds.
Ray Allen returned from injury to score 13 points for the Celtics.
"It wasn't a pretty win, but it was a win," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "Overtime was great. We executed better and we got what we wanted."
The Hawks, who were without forward Josh Smith after he injured his knee in game two, had 29 points from Johnson -- whose three-pointer with 1:23 left in regulation knotted the score at 80-80.
"We definitely felt like we could have won," Johnson said. "We just didn't come up with those big plays in overtime. We had a couple of tough shots that we didn't make. We definitely felt like we let one get away."
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