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Rob Peterson

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Rookie Rose speaks softly, smacks down experienced Celts

By Rob Peterson,
Posted Apr 18 2009 8:30PM

BOSTON -- In the locker room during interviews, Derrick Rose speaks so softly, sometimes it's difficult to hear what he has to say. You need to lean in a little further with a voice recorder just to catch it.

On Saturday, no one could catch Rose and he didn't need to say a word. His play spoke volumes.

The rookie, in his first Playoffs game, torched the Celtics for 36 points, 11 assists and four boards as the young Bulls ran past the defending champs 105-103 in overtime in Game 1 of a first-round series.

After watching what Rose did to the Celtics -- which was pretty much whatever he wanted -- it seems silly that there was even a debate last June as to who would go No. 1 overall in the NBA Draft, Rose or Michael Beasley. That's no knock on Beasley. But nofew rookies have had the kind of season Rose has had, and only one has had the kind of postseason debut Rose did.

His 36 points tied Kareem Abdul-Jabbar -- who scored 36 in his postseason opener for the Milwaukee Bucks in 1970 -- for the finest "Here I am world!" moment in NBA Playoffs history. That's some fine company to be in. Yet, what may have been most impressive was Rose's calm. He seemed in control of everything, and the young Bulls fed off it.

Rose's most important quarter was the third, when he went 5-for-6 from the field and scored 13 points to help keep Chicago in the game. The Bulls had taken a nine-point lead into halftime, but Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo had eight points apiece and the Celtics led by one heading into the fourth quarter.

On Saturday, it was Chicago that handled the game's ebb and flow, better than the Celtics, who have played 26 Playoffs games in the last two seasons. Maybe it's that experience, however, that cost the Celtics, who may believed the young Bulls would cower in fear of the mighty Celtics and the 18,000-plus green-clad, towel-waving fans at the Garden.

Boston coach Doc Rivers, who gingerly climbed the stairs in the postgame press conference as if he had just played 53 minutes, was peeved, as miffed as some local media said they had ever seen him. He had good reason to be.

He said the Celtics coaching staff harped on transition defense in practice. Yet the first hoop of the game was an alley-oop dunk by Joakim Noah on a fast break. The Celtics got hammered on the glass, 53-45, after Rivers told his guys that they had to be the aggressors. Instead, with the possible exception of point guard Rajon Rondo -- who had a nifty game with 29 points, nine boards and seven assists -- the Boston aggression was absent.

And then there was the specter of Kevin Garnett, sharp in a grey suit on the bench in the first half, conspicuously absent from the pine in the second.

Rivers for one, didn't want to hear about Garnett's absence hurting the team. He nearly channeled his inner Rick Pitino when the situation was broached.

"Guys, Kevin is not playing in this playoffs," Rivers said. "I'm not answering Kevin Garnett questions. I didn't even notice, honestly, until someone told me that he wasn't on the bench and I could care less.

"You know, hell, he was on the bench in the first half and we were down eight [actually nine]. So this is about the players in uniform. Kevin is gone. And he ain't coming back. The guys in uniform have to play."

On Saturday, it was the guys in the red, not the home whites, who played, or at least who played better. The Celtics' All-Star tandem of Ray Allen and Paul Pierce started slowly and together had eight points at the half. Pierce heated up and finished with 23, but it took him 21 shots and on Saturday, as he did on Feb. 5 against the Lakers, he missed one of two free throws near the end of regulation. Making both would have given the Celtics a one-point lead. Instead, the two teams headed to overtime. Not coincidentally, the Celtics lost that game to L.A. in OT as well.

Allen, meanwhile, never got on track, going 1-for-12 from the field. He finished with four points.

The Celtics may eventually be able to weather Garnett's absence. They can't, however, survive if one of the two remaining All-Stars is off his game.

For Chicago, the story wasn't all Rose. Noah, the second-year center, played with his trademark energy and had 11 points and 17 rebounds. Tyrus Thomas, who shot 16-for-41 in his first 10 playoff games, went 8-for-12 in his 11th. Backup center Brad Miller couldn't hit a shot, but he did pull down 12 boards.

But in the end, the story was about Rose. The Garden fans were beside themselves with glee when the rookie fouled out in overtime. Even then, Rose didn't stamp his feet or complain. He threw his hands in the air and then quietly walked to the end of the bench.

That doesn't surprise anyone who's been around Rose this season. As Del Negro took questions after the game, Rose entered the press room undetected and stood quietly in the back, a soft drink in his hand, listening to his coach praise his maturity for his 20 years, his poise and his decision making. Rose didn't blink.

He opened plenty of eyes on Saturday, yet Del Negro declined to call it a coming out party. As the coach pointed out, the favorite for Rookie of the Year has been here all season.

"We've been on national TV a lot," Del Negro said. "If you're not familiar with Derrick, you're not a basketball fan."

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