Without Rondo, What Can the Bulls Do?
‘Up and down’ has been the narrative of the Chicago Bulls season. To begin their first-round playoff series with the Boston Celtics, the Bulls stole two games on the road from the number 1 seed. Chicago simply outplayed their opponents and it looked like they were heading for first-round upset as they went back home for the next two games. After a thumb injury to starting point guard Rajon Rondo, arguably one of their most impactful players of the first two games, the Bulls just couldn’t recreate the kind of dominance they showed in Boston. Lead by a more efficient Isaiah Thomas, the Celtics took two games on the road in Chicago.
Now tied at two games apiece, the series heads back to Boston. If the Bulls want to have any chance in this series, someone is going to have to step up and fill Rajon Rondo’s role. He reportedly had his hard cast removed and held a late-night workout to see if he could play through the thumb and wrist injuries, but the veteran guard announced Wednesday morning that he would not play in the pivotal Game 5. Jimmy Butler has played well the entire series and has often had to take over the game for Chicago to create any sort of offense down the stretch of games. Dwyane Wade has also played stretches of good basketball, but the Bulls will need bench players to step up and take on bigger roles to try and patch together the hole that Rondo has left.
Quote on quote “replacing” Rondo will fall on the shoulders of the three other point guards on the roster; Jerian Grant, Michael Carter-Williams, and Isaiah Canaan. Fred Hoiberg announced that he would start Canaan for Wednesday’s Game 5, which will be his first start of the season. Canaan scored 13 points in Game 4 after Grant struggled in the starting role and MCW was sidelined with foul trouble.
One of the toughest voids that Rondo’s absence leaves is on the defensive end, specifically guarding Isaiah Thomas, who looked more like his explosive self in the last two games. Canaan will do his best to stay in front of Thomas, but Chicago’s bigs must do a better job of hedging on pick and rolls and rotating to the right man. It will take a village to slow down Thomas, so the Bulls will have to defend as a unit, much like they did in the first two games of the series.
The series momentum has shifted in favor of the Celtics, but if the Bulls can get back to the type of basketball they were playing in the first two games then they still have a chance to pull off a first round upset. With any luck, Rondo might be able to return to the lineup by the end of this series. His presence and leadership on the court is certainly missed.