BOSTON -- It was the type of game you didn't want to have a conclusion. All that would mean is Derrick Rose and Rajon Rondo would have to stop playing. For four quarters and one blissful overtime period the two smallest players on the floor squared off in a heavyweight battle. First it was Rose, powering to the basket and using his sturdy 6-3 frame to absorb contact and make bucket after bucket on his way to tying Kareem Abdul Jabbar's -- who was then known as Lew Alcindor -- 39-year old record for the most points (36) for a rookie in his first playoff game. Then it was Rondo, slicing through the lane with reckless abandon and using his long arms to flip the ball up over taller defenders. He finished with 29 points, nine rebounds and seven assists.
"Derrick Rose was absolutely fantastic," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers.
"Rondo was just getting to the basket against us," said Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro.
If you didn't think the point guard matchup was going to be critical (along with epic, entertaining and any other adjective you care to insert) before this series started, well, you do now. With his team looking listless, Rondo morphed from playmaker to scorer. His 12 points in the first half helped the Celtics overcome Paul Pierce's four and with Ray Allen (1-12 from the floor) unable to find his range, it was Rondo, a 31.3 percent three-point shooter, who stepped up to knock down a big third quarter triple.
Said Celtics forward Leon Powe, "Rondo kept us in the game tonight."
If Rondo kept Boston in the game, then Rose won it for Chicago. Displaying speed, power and a feathery perimeter shot, the likely Rookie of the Year dominated from start to finish. He was a one-man fast break: after Rondo tossed in an acrobatic layup in the second quarter, Rose took the inbounds pass and exploded towards the other end and banked in his own layup. Total elapsed time: less than four seconds. Boston had no one who could stay in front of him and no answer for him once he got to the rim.
"He's good at using his body to ward off defenders," said Powe. "And even if he missed the shot, everyone has to come over to try and block it, and it creates an offensive rebound. He gets in there easy. He controlled almost every aspect of the game. He's as good a point guard as I have seen play."
Is there a strategy to contain someone like that?
"We're going to have to come up with one," said Powe.
Playing Rose straight up probably isn't one that is going to be discussed. Rondo is considered one of the best defenders in the league at his position and he was helpless to stop Rose's penetration. Boston may try to use bigger defenders (Tony Allen could get a shot) in Game 2 and attempt to confuse Rose by mixing up the defenses. However it won't be easy to shake the Bulls unflappable rookie.
"Somebody asked me before about him having playoff experience and I said he doesn't need it," said Bulls guard Ben Gordon. "He's poised beyond his years. He already carries himself like a veteran out there."
That "veteran" has given the Bulls a one-game cushion and stolen home court advantage from the Celtics. On Monday it will be Rondo's turn to try and even the score.
1. Is Kevin Garnett becoming a distraction?
He could be. Much was made about Garnett, who usually watches games he doesn't play in from the locker room, sitting on the bench during the playoffs. Garnett did just that in the first half on Saturday but was conspicuously absent from the sidelines in the second half. Before the game Rivers said he was tired of all the conspiracy theories that are being floated in the press about Garnett and after the game sounded annoyed at having to once again discuss Garnett's presence.
"Guys, Kevin is not in the playoffs," said Rivers. "I'm not answering Kevin Garnett questions. I didn't even notice [that he wasn't on the bench] until someone told me. I could care less. Hell, he was on the bench in the first half and we were down eight points. This is about the players in uniform. Kevin is gone and he ain't coming back."
Rivers did say that too many players tried to single handedly fill the vacuum that was created by Garnett's injury.
"It looked like everyone was trying to be 'the guy' tonight," said Rivers. "They were going to replace Kevin, for whatever reason."
The Celtics will undoubtedly face another round of questions about Garnett on Sunday, questions that could disrupt their focus going into Game 2 on Monday.
2. Why did it look like the Bulls got so many more easy scores than the Celtics?
Because they did. Chicago had a 24-13 advantage in fast break points and that doesn't even account for the buckets Rose got when he turned a made basket into a transition opportunity. Leon Powe explained the Bulls strategy to create chances in the open floor.
"We didn't realize what they do at first," said Powe. "Some people crash the glass. But some people, when they contest the shot, they take off and keep going. They don't go for the rebound. They go for the other end. I noticed that when I went to crash and I noticed my man was way down the other way. I had to start thinking of whether to crash or stay with my man. We have to come up with something for that."
3. Derrick Rose's big game experience in high school and college probably prepared him for the playoffs...right?
Not according to Rose.
"The atmosphere is totally different," said Rose. "You're playing against the best players in the world up here. In college, you are lucky to have one pro on your team. Up here, everyone is here for a reason."