Inhaling the beautiful scent of a rose smelled good once the Chicago Bulls wrapped up Game 1 with an impressive win, which led to people raving about the blossoming guard Derrick Rose, who was just named the league’s Rookie of the Year. The youth of Rose captivated a sports town much depressed since Michael Jordan retired in a Bulls uniform. Since then, the city coped with the Bulls' anguishing droughts and the Cubs' struggles didn’t make it better.

With Rose's arrival and breakout playoff performance, it took the spotlight in another direction and quickly we forgot who still owns the defending champs crown. Most thought it wasn’t possible that the Boston Celtics could salvage another run when they disclosed that superstar Kevin Garnett’s presence wouldn’t contribute to their second straight run at a championship.

But something else smells other than Rose’s continuous growth and it’s not the smell of a miracle or an illusion happening in Chicago. It’s the smell of Rajon Rondo, Boston’s proficient guard. I know most of you will hate me for this, but clearly he’s the best guard in these playoffs. Sure, you can argue Denver’s guard Chauncey Billups merits credit after his leadership and maturity turned things around for the Nuggets. And as for a dynasty that was disassembled after Jordan’s departure, the rise of a new guard does nothing more but astound the depleted United Center. Still, the Bulls haven’t won anything yet, as the Celtics are defending their title from a year ago without their leader and defensive instigator KG. What a huge blow.

But when there’s an emerging superstar and floor general like Rondo, amazing can happen anywhere. Indeed, it happened at the United Center on a night most said the Bulls would defend their home floor with a victory. It turns out the Celtics stole one in a big way Thursday night, containing Rose to a mere nine points after having the greatest playoff opening game of his career, scoring 36 points against the futile Celtics defense. The Celtics' struggles in the first game raised concerns, and everyone flattered and dignified the Bulls as if they had just hoisted the first championship banner of this decade.

Of course, Rose's presence makes general manager John Paxson seem really brilliant. But in the meantime, it’s Danny Ainge with the cleverness, drafting Rondo, a guard everyone regarded as a wasteful pick, a guard everyone said couldn’t shoot, a guard everyone said wasn’t made to render the point guard position. No one had any idea that he would emerge into one of the league’s greatest guards. Before he declared for the draft, the masses quickly criticized him and felt he wasn’t built to play point guard in the league.

Well, they were wrong.

You don’t have to like his cockiness or dirty style. You don’t have to like his aggressive attitude or defensive fortitude. You don’t even have to like him in general. But clearly, Rondo is the most pugnacious guard in the league, coming out with his green sweatband with the NBA logo upside down, ready to apply the intense and agitating hand-in-your-face, rebound-in-your-face type action. It’s abnormal for a point guard to lead a team in three categories, such as scoring, rebounding and assists. Those are triple-double numbers and that’s rarely seen by a point guard. Rondo's vehement work ethic allows him to accomplish that kind of commodity, as most guards only shoot and compile assists.

The night seemed belonged to Rose, who was honored in front of the home crowd, a multitude of fans wearing red, standing in the aisles and out of their seats to eulogize Rose and their Bulls before seeing everything unravel in the first half. For much of the night, the United Center didn’t make much of a sound, except when the Celtics made their way to the exits at halftime. Those sounds weren’t too pleasant, as they were disgruntled boos. And once again, it was mostly from damage compelled by Rondo’s unstoppable toughness, helping the Celtics coast to a breezy 107-86 demolition. It’s fitting to say a breezy win for a game played in the Windy City.

In the game before traveling to Chicago, the Celtics secured a win on their home floor, thanks to Ray Allen’s unstoppable shooting. Rondo, in a nerve-wracking game where he sustained an ankle injury, earned a triple-double. The bravery and toughness is their brand, and Rondo is the catalyst who presents the physicality and bravery without the Big Ticket in their attempt to repeat. Again, Rondo had a big night on a bad ankle, scoring 20 points and Paul Pierce finally awoke by scoring 24 points. Now the Celtics are in a familiar position, taking a commanding 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.

At this time, Celtics fans are worried, as Rondo tweaked the same ankle he tweaked in Game 2, evidently when he was carried off by two teammates at the end of the contest (well, a contest that never really was a contest.) Immediately following the game, Rondo urged he was all right. Those are good indications for the Celtics, who clearly need him to continue and present his solid energy and leadership. It’s bad enough they have a shortage, with Leon Powe, a defensive force inside, done for the season, and KG, who's sitting on the sidelines because of an ailing knee. But now, the league is built and relies on potent point guards and Rondo has emerged into a stellar one. Of course, he’s daring enough and much needed to play through his problematic ankle troubles.

More troubling, if he goes down with the same problem, the Celtics' chase for a repeat could be jeopardized. More than anything, they have responded to critics by stopping Rose and explosive scorer Ben Gordon. They have also answered another criticism, succeeding without Garnett. The other two of the big three have come to life at the right time. Pierce and Allen have snapped out of dreadful shooting slumps on the road, where they had a tendency of struggling in the regular season. Very rarely have the Celtics lost at home, but surprisingly, it didn’t go as planned in the first game of the series, when Rose looked as if he should've won the MVP award and not the Rookie of the Year award.

Allen buried critical three-pointers to increase the score and add to a rout that was already an ugly one. Pierce had an excellent first quarter, knocking down big shots. But there wasn’t a player more awe-inspiring than Rondo, impressing critics by grabbing 11 rebounds, six assists and five steals. He’s a terrific ball-handler, and is good at easing inside traffic to grab rebounds or create and finish.

In case you missed it, he made a skip no-look pass to Glen Davis who lingered under the basket and attacked on the defensive side by blocking shots of players who attempted to make strong finishes. The Celtics' defense trapped Gordon and forced him to take outside shots, a number of which he missed. Rose toyed with Boston a bit, but it was difficult for him to create inside as the green jerseys blocked off the lanes. Mikki Moore's length enabled more blocked shots. Davis' and Kendrick Perkins' presences hindered Rose and Gordon from setting up near the basket and brought out the youth and inexperience of the Bulls when Rose seemed a bit frustrated.

The Bulls won’t win too many games if they turnover the ball 22 times in a game and only make five assists. That isn’t enough to win a playoff game and the Celtics benefited, taking a 2-1 series lead. A defeat would’ve had fans buzzing on their improbable playoff run, but the Celtics are clearly in playoff form and I never doubted them. Now, there’s absolutely no doubting them as they’ll remain defending champs until beaten, and now they control the series. Folks, the defending champs are playing like the champs of old.


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