BOSTON — Ray Allen landed the final blow in a memorable duel with Ben Gordon on Monday night, shooting the Boston Celtics back into their first-round series.
Allen made a tiebreaking three-pointer with two seconds left and finished with 30 points, leading the Celtics a 118-115 win over the Chicago Bulls.
Former Kentucky point guard Rajon Rondo had a triple-double — 19 points, 16 assists and 12 rebounds.
"He's turned it up another notch in the whole playoffs," teammate Paul Pierce said of Rondo. "I think as Rondo goes, we go. You see how he pushes the ball and he sets up tempo from the jump, offensively and defensively, and that gets our offense going, and that's what he did tonight. He was aggressive from the beginning. He was not going to be denied getting to the hole, and that opens up everything for all of us on the court."
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Gordon nearly carried Chicago to a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series. He scored with 12.3 seconds left to tie it, the final hoop of his playoff career-high 42 points. Then Boston set up a play for Allen, who took a pass from Rondo and connected from the right side.
Allen scored 28 points after getting some advice from Coach Doc Rivers at halftime.
"Doc said going into the half, 'Be aggressive, but let it come to you,'" Allen said. "I never think I'm not in my rhythm. It can be a grind as a shooter. As a scorer you're always trying to find something."
Allen and Gordon each had several clutch baskets in the second half as the former University of Connecticut guards battled for control of the game. After Tyrus Thomas missed a shot from midcourt as time expired, Allen headed for his bench where injured Kevin Garnett delivered a couple of congratulatory slaps — to his head and chest.
Allen said he doesn't like "being made a fuss over." But that was unavoidable after he broke out of his shooting slump. He scored just four points on 1-for-12 shooting and missed the final shot in Chicago's 105-103 overtime win Saturday.
"It felt like we were at UConn in the summertime playing pickup," Gordon said. "He is a great shooter and I knew he would break out eventually."
The next two games of the series are scheduled for Chicago on Thursday night and Sunday.
"We feel very confident because we feel like we haven't even played good basketball yet," Pierce said. "Our best is yet to come."
The Bulls showed they could compete with the Celtics, who could be without Garnett (strained right knee) for the rest of the playoffs.
"We got a split and that's tough to do against the defending champs," Gordon said.
Consecutive three-pointers by Gordon gave the Bulls a 109-104 lead before the Celtics rallied. Glen Davis made two free throws and Rondo connected on a long jumper to give Boston a 112-111 lead with 1:01 to play.
Gordon followed with a 16-foot jumper and Allen countered with a 3-pointer that put Boston ahead 115-113 with 25.3 seconds remaining.
Then it was Gordon's turn. He connected from near the foul line before the Celtics called a timeout to set up their final play.
Rondo dribbled on the left side and Allen worked himself free, caught the pass in rhythm and converted as the crowd went wild.
On his way to the locker room after Thomas missed the last shot for Chicago, Rivers shouted, "yeah, yeah," pumped his fist and exchanged high-fives with fans. Then, headed to his postgame news conference, Rivers joked, "nice and easy, never a doubt."
Davis had 26 points for second-seeded Boston, passing his career high of 24 points on March 21. Pierce added 18 points and Kendrick Perkins contributed 16 points and 12 rebounds.
John Salmons had 17 points and Brad Miller scored 16 for Chicago.
The Allen-Gordon shootout "almost looked like they turned it into a personal battle," Rivers said. "You know, who's the best UConn player to ever play. And it was amazing."
"We were exchanging jabs there, and I don't mean shots," Allen said. "I mean he caught me with an elbow, I got him right back with an elbow. It was ... competitive."
Chicago Coach Vinny Del Negro cited the Celtics' rebounding as a key to their win.
"They had 21 offensive rebounds," he said, "and it's going to be hard to win any game, not even a playoff game, if you give up that many offensive rebounds."
The Celtics nearly lost despite controlling rookie point guard Derrick Rose, who sat out most of the first quarter with two fouls. He finished with 10 points, seven assists and six rebounds after leading the Bulls with 36 points and 11 assists on Saturday.
Rondo missed the last 5:03 of the first half with a minor right ankle sprain but returned to start the third quarter. Backup forward Leon Powe didn't return to the bench after going to the locker room early in the second quarter. Rivers said he didn't know anything about Powe's condition "but it didn't look good."