Little LeBron, big problem
Imagine a point guard-size LeBron James. Kind of intimidating, huh? Well, that's how one NBA scout described what the Celtics are dealing with right now in Chicago rookie Derrick Rose.
"He's a LeBron guard," one Eastern Conference advance scout said. "His power and speed is unmatched. It can be Rajon Rondo. It could be Chauncey Billups. It doesn't matter. He'll outpower you."
Rose outpowered the Celtics Saturday in Game 1. The NBA Rookie of the Year front-runner had a career-high 36 points, 11 assists, 4 rebounds, and 1 steal in 50 minutes of the Bulls' 105-103 overtime victory. The No. 1 overall pick made 12 of 19 shots (many on drives), nailed all 12 free throws, and earned several assists on alley-oops to wide-open shooters.
While the Celtics had numerous other issues to tackle during practice yesterday, one notable concern was figuring out how to make Rose wilt. Boston will need an answer in Game 2 tonight at TD Banknorth Garden to even the best-of-seven series.
"It's just going to be fun out there," Rose said. "I know there's going to be a little more attention on me."
The Rose the Celtics saw Saturday was definitely much improved from the one they previously had seen.
Rose averaged 14.3 points, 4.7 assists, and 2.3 rebounds as the Bulls went 1-2 against the Celtics in the regular season. The 6-foot-3-inch, 190-pounder, however, played two of those games before New Year's Day and was in foul trouble in a St. Patrick's Day win. Rose, 20, also dealt with the challenge of being handed the starting point guard position over veteran Kirk Hinrich at season's start.
"He's just more confident," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "He's making shots now from the outside, which you have to live with, with his speed and power. I think what happened is [a change in] trust from the rest of the players. You could see it with the Bulls, they were almost fighting him. Why should we give this guy the ball and let him run with the team? Now they know why and they allow it.
"You can see his whole team, they rally around him. He's such a unique rookie in how he carries himself in general with his teammates. He's so humble. He always talks about his teammates and that makes him trusting."
The scout said the Bulls aided Rose's development by making their offense much simpler.
"Early on you could see [Rose's] inexperience and his inability to run a team," the scout said. "But he has made significant strides as a floor general. That has really helped him. They just want to keep it simple and run to his strengths. It's basic as hell.
"He has inexperience in terms of running a team. He dribble drives down the middle of the floor and says, 'My athletes are better than yours and you can't guard me.' It's really that simple. Spread the floor and attack.
"He went from high school to one year at [the University of Memphis] to the NBA. They had to keep it simple."
The scout said Rose is too quick for defenders, does a great job of driving and dishing, can finish strong with both hands while taking punishment, makes unbelievable plays, and goes from baseline to baseline with the ball in a blur. If there is a weakness, it's his jump shooting - he only made 16 3-pointers this season and none in Game 1.
So how do you stop Rose?
"The game plan has to be to defend and protect the paint," the scout said. "Your [defensive] rotations have to be there. He needs to see multiple green shirts in transition. It's unfair to ask Rondo to guard that guy one on one. [Rose] has to see bodies. If all he sees is one guy, he's gone.
"He can finish and absorb contact and go to the free throw line like LeBron. That's why he's so tough. He's unselfish. A true point guard. The kid is really as good as advertised and will get a lot better because he's so young. He's getting by on his natural gifts. But once he gets a jump shot, it will be really tough to stop this guy."
From Rondo to center Kendrick Perkins, the Celtics believe they will make the right defensive adjustments.
"I don't need to reach as much," Rondo said. "I need to keep the ball in front of me and make him take a lot of [jumpers], elbow shots. He made a couple [Saturday], but if he makes those then my hat is off to him. As a team, we need to make him see five guys on the floor."
Said Perkins: "We gave him too many easy looks [Saturday]. We didn't attack him enough on the defensive end. We kind of laid back . . . I think we have to do a better job of helping out."
As tough as the mini-me LeBron is today, this defensive challenge will seem like nothing several years from now.
"They are going to run everything through him. They should. He's special," Rivers said.
Marc J. Spears can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org