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Rose puts Boston on the deck

BOSTON -- Doc Rivers is not one to lose his cool, and Paul Pierce was a bit evasive (though he chuckled to himself) when he was asked whether the coach of the Boston Celtics had screamed at his team afterward.

"Let us have it?" Pierce said, repeating the question. "Well, he didn't feel like there was a sense of urgency there, and you could hear it in his voice."

But Pierce gave no reading on whatever decibel level Rivers reached inside the confines of the home locker room after the defending champions lost the opener of the 2009 playoffs 105-103 to the Chicago Bulls in overtime Saturday.

What Pierce said somewhat contradicted what Rivers told the media afterward, when Rivers indicated that the sense of urgency had manifested itself incorrectly, with every key member of the Celtics trying to take it upon himself to be the one and only difference-maker in the absence of Kevin Garnett.

But what really made the difference in this one from the Boston end was not the missing or misplaced sense of urgency. It was a pair of crucial missed shots: Pierce's blown free throw with 2½ seconds left in regulation that would have given Boston a one-point lead (at a time when Chicago was out of timeouts), and Ray Allen's missed jumper just before the final buzzer that would have sent the game into double-overtime.

Those are the types of moments that champions seize, but Boston -- despite that 17th banner hanging from the rafters, the one with the 2008 on it -- ended up gagging.

If you were taking wagers on who might succumb to the playoff pressure, Allen would have been a safe pick, due to his body of work from a year ago. But the other player you'd have put short odds on was Derrick Rose, the rookie playing the first postseason game of his career.

But Rose had spent the previous 48 hours focusing on something his agent, former Bulls guard B.J. Armstrong, had 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."

Indeed the Bulls did, playing from ahead for the majority of the game and keeping their composure when the Celtics made their runs -- a number of which were stopped by Rose coming downcourt after a big Boston bucket and answering with one of his own. That was especially true in the early part of the third quarter, when Boston quickly bounced back from a nine-point halftime deficit and briefly pulled ahead. But each time that momentum was swinging, each moment the crowd was starting to go nuts, Rose became the silencer, knocking down his first five shots in the third quarter. He finished with a career-high 36 points (tying Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's record for most points by a rookie in his NBA playoff debut) and handed out 11 assists, engaging in a thrilling duel with Celtics counterpart Rajon Rondo (29 points, nine rebounds, seven assists).

If you want to make the argument that Rose and Rondo pretty much negated each other, then the place you have to look to figure out where the other big difference was made is one spot over, at shooting guard.

Yes, Ben Gordon made only 6 of 17 shots. But he ran off screens all afternoon as though he was imitating Rip Hamilton, and Allen had the chore of chasing him around all those screens on the defensive end of the court. That may help explain Allen's 1-for-12 shooting performance, but as Rivers pointed out afterward, just because something is difficult does not mean it is impossible.

Also, Rivers was subbing Tony Allen for Ray Allen on several key possessions late in the game, so that excuse (not that Ray Allen made any) would have been especially weak in explaining Ray Allen's miss on the final shot of the game.

"We're all beside ourselves. We're all angry, but at least we all know where we stand and what we need to do," Allen said.

Rivers also mused that the Celtics had shown up for a game but had walked into a fight, and his players showed no urgency to fight back with the same passion. Maybe that had something to do with the absence of Garnett, the team's unquestioned defensive leader and emotional spark plug.

But as Rivers pointed out afterward in a rare display of public anger, this series is NOT about Kevin Garnett. It's about the 10 guys in uniforms on the court, and which set of five is bringing the most juice.

"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. I thought we fought in the second half a lot better, but I told our guys that they let a young team get comfortable on our home court in the first half, and then you had to deal with them the rest of the game."

They're going to have to deal with them again Monday night, and the first thing to watch for is whether Boston's intensity level from the get-go is more energetic than it was Saturday.

The Bulls are really under no pressure here, and they know it. But that is a dynamic that can change over the course of a series when the euphoria of a Game 1 upset can turn into a distant memory in the course of just a few days.

Then again, you have to remember this: Each of the past couple of seasons, you could make an argument that there was a series that was won, for all intents and purposes, in Game 1. Remember Tim Duncan's 3-pointer in the Spurs' double-overtime victory against Phoenix a year ago? Remember Avery Johnson's switching his starting lineup at the beginning of Game 1 against Golden State two years ago?

So we're going to see what the Celtics are made of without Garnett a little sooner than we expected, because the danger of this whole postseason quickly getting away from them lurks just one game ahead.

"I hope this is a wake-up call. I hope we realize the Bulls, they're not a team that's just happy to be in the playoffs, so hopefully let's wake up. This is reality. Let's pick up our play," Pierce said.

"Now that we got hit in the mouth, it's a series."

Chris Sheridan covers the NBA for ESPN Insider. To e-mail Sheridan, click here.