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Tough Celts finally put away Bulls

THE Boston Celtics pulled away from Chicago in the first half for a 109-99 win over the Bulls that clinched their National Basketball Association first-round playoff series in Game 7 on Saturday.

After a record-setting seven overtimes in the first six games, the defending NBA champions made an early night of it in Boston, and set up an Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Orlando Magic.

Ray Allen followed his 51 points in Game 6 with 23 on Saturday, Paul Pierce added 20 and Boston completed a rare regulation victory in what was one of the better first-round playoff series in league history.

"I don't see great. I just see hard," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "For a coach, it's just: Win the series."

Ben Gordon scored 33 and Kirk Hinrich scored 14 of his 16 in the fourth quarter to help Chicago cut the lead to three points - thanks in part to a bizarre scoring change that added a point to the Bulls' score two hours after a first-half three-pointer was mistakenly ruled a two.

Boston made 11 of its free throws in the last two minutes to hold on.

The seventh-seeded Bulls return to Chicago knowing they took the defending champions to the limit. The four overtime games was a record for a series, and the seven overtimes total was the most any team has ever played in an entire playoff.

"It was a long, grueling series. This was one of the most mentally tough series I've ever been in," Pierce said. "Thank goodness we were battle-tested. We still are the champs until somebody knocks us off."

Chicago coach Vinny Del Bosque said the series was a valuable lesson for his young team. "Whenever you can go through an experience like this, it's only going to make you better. Knowing how the level of physicality goes up, knowing how playoff basketball is played. It's a great learning experience for us."


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