Derrick Rose had already established himself as the favorite to win the Rookie of the Year award when the 2009 NBA playoffs opened on April 18 in Boston.
The defending champion Celtics were expected to make short work of the Bulls, who earned the No. 7 seed with a 41-41 record under first year head coach Vinny Del Negro.
While the game was nationally televised, Kendall Gill, Stacey King and I huddled up in one of our station’s conference rooms to watch the playoff opener and prepare for our postgame coverage on what was then Comcast SportsNet.
What we saw was one of the most electric performances of Rose’s career. He made defensive ace Rajon Rondo look like he was wearing cement blocks on his feet, driving to the basket with that extra gear of speed few players possess.
When it was over, Rose had tied Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the highest scoring playoff debut in NBA history, finishing with 36 points on 12 of 19 shooting from the field while making all 12 of his free throws. He led the Bulls to an upset win over the defending champs, 105-103, in overtime. Rose also dished out 11 assists, showcasing the play-making ability that would make him one of the league’s most feared players.
Afterwards, the soft-spoken Rose downplayed his record-tying performance, saying simply, “I just thought about it like I was playing in a regular game.”
But his coach was more than impressed, with Del Negro telling reporters, “He has a quiet confidence about him and he’s only going to get better. If people aren’t familiar with Derrick, then they’re not basketball fans.”
Rondo had a great offensive game for Boston, leading the Celtics with 29 points and 7 assists, but conceded that chasing the warp speed rookie had taken its toll on him physically. “I’ll be fine Monday”, Rondo said afterwards. “Just now, I’m extremely tired.”
While hosting the postgame show that afternoon, I remember being amazed at the confidence the 20 year old Rose showed in dissecting one of the league’s best defenses. His poise under pressure was one of his greatest strengths, and his ability to get to the rim and finish high difficulty shots would make even the most experienced reporter reach for superlatives.
Stacey gained a national following describing the exploits of the humble, high-flying star from Chicago, and his call of Rose’s dunk over Phoenix guard Goran Dragic is still a YouTube classic.
It really was an amazing ride covering Rose's 8 years with the Bulls, and that playoff game in Boston will always stand out as one of his career highlights. The Bulls went on to lose that series in seven classic games, but the rest of the league was put on notice.
Derrick Rose was going to be one of the most exciting young talents the league had ever seen.