Last year Boston fans watched their beloved Celtics roll over the Atlanta Hawks in the opening game of the playoffs 104-81, beginning what would be a magical postseason culminating in a championship. Flash forward to present day. Boston fans were treated to another jaw dropping performance, only this time it was by Derrick Rose.
The Bulls' rookie point guard, playing in his first playoff game, carried his team to a 105-103 overtime victory against the favored Celtics. Rose, just 20-years-old, scored 36 points, tying Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the most points scored by a rookie in his NBA playoff debut, and adding 11 assists. He hit all 12 of his free throw attempts.
Engaged in a battle with Celtics guard Rajon Rondo (29 points, 9 rebounds, 7 assists), Rose played like a seasoned veteran, consistently hitting big shots to stem Boston runs.
But there was more to Chicago's victory than Rose's performance. Fellow baby-Bull Joakim Noah scored 11 points, pulled down 17 rebounds and played like the inspirational leader of his back to back National Championship squads from Florida. Tyrus Thomas scored 16 points, 6 in overtime, while blocking 3 shots. Ben Gordon chipped in 20 points and Brad Miller grabbed 12 rebounds off the bench.
The Kevin Garnett-less Celtics looked lost throughout the game. Paul Pierce, who carried this team for the past two months without KG, scored 23 points but missed a free throw with 2 seconds left that would have won the game. Ray Allen, the NBA's second leading 3 point shooter of all time went 1-12 and bricked a game-tying attempt at the end of overtime.
Celtics coach Doc Rivers countered Chicago's fast-paced attack by going small, playing Rando and Allen with Stephon Marbury and Eddie House. House and Marbury, scoring guards to the core, combined with Allen to shoot a horrific 3-22 for 9 points.
To make matters worse, the Celtics were out-rebounded by the Bulls 53 to 45. While KG replacements Kendrick Perkins and Glen Davis outscored Noah and Thomas 32 to 27, they were out-rebounded by the Bulls duo 23 to 11.
Rose sought out former Bulls point guard (and his current agent) BJ Armstrong for advice before the game. Armstrong told him "Just go out there in the first five minutes and play like you want to be there," Rose said, "So I came out aggressive and my team followed me."
After the game, Rivers refused to talk about the absence of Garnett, instead focusing on his team's lack of intensity and focus on their game plan. "We had no defensive energy," Rivers said. "I mean, to think we worked on transition D for two days, and then the first play of the game Joakim Noah gets a dunk, now that was extremely disappointing."
No one will be overlooking the Bulls going forward. After the game, Pierce said, "Now that we got hit in the mouth, it's a series." While this match-up is a long way from over, game one showed us how much the Celtics miss Garnett.
For them to win this series, their big men will have to do a much better job on the glass. Allen will have to pick up his scoring. And someone will have to emerge as the emotional leader Garnett was. If they don't, this series could be over before it comes back to Boston.