The Boston Celtics finally overcame a determined challenge from the Chicago Bulls with a 109-99 victory, the NBA champions edging their enthralling Eastern Conference first-round series by a 4-3 margin.
|Pierce celebrates as Celtics net the win [GALLO/GETTY]
Ray Allen scored 23 points and Paul Pierce had 20 for the second-seeded Celtics, who will face the Orlando Magic in the conference semi-finals which start in Boston on Monday.
"We turned into the Celtics again," Boston coach Doc Rivers said after the Game Seven win.
The seventh-seeded Bulls, who were led by Ben Gordon's 33 points, forged a four-point advantage after the first quarter but the Celtics clicked into top gear in the second with a 29-11 domination to race ahead for good.
"We weathered their storm and just hung in there," Rivers said.
"Finally in the second quarter, we made a run."
A 22-2 spurt consumed the final eight minutes of the second quarter and enabled Boston to go from a six-point deficit to a 52-38 lead at the half.
Chicago never regained the lead although the Bulls pulled within three points with 5:39 to play.
Boston, however, outscored Chicago 7-2 over the next three minutes to put themselves in position to wrap up a thrilling best-of-seven series which featured four overtime games.
"We just could not make enough shots to put any real pressure on then," Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro said.
Derrick Rose added 18 points and Kirk Hinrich had 16 for the Bulls, who got 15 rebounds from Joakim Noah.
Kendrick Perkins supported the scoring of Allen and Pierce with 14 points and 13 rebounds.
Eddie House and Glen Davis also were in double figures for the Celtics, who will face NBA rebounding leader Dwight Howard of Orlando Magic in the semi-finals.
"We definitely got our work cut out," Pierce said of the best-of-seven series.
"But we are still the champs until somebody knocks us off."