Just when Rajon Rondo appeared to be taking great pride in playing against the Boston Celtics, the Chicago Bulls‘ star suffered a minor injury. That minor injury, a fractured right thumb according to Yahoo Sports, is one that is expected to keep him for about two weeks. And it could not have happened at a worse time for the Bulls. Rajon Rondo’s injury could be the difference in the Bulls unseating the top-seeded Celtics and losing in six or seven games.
Rajon Rondo went from a ballyhooed signing over the summer for the Chicago Bulls, to banished on the bench (courtesy of CSN Chicago), to perhaps becoming the most important player on the Bulls.
Once a Celtics’ stalwart, now a starter for the Chicago Bulls, Rajon Rondo was familiar with some of his former team’s plays. It proved to be invaluable for the first two games. No one expected to see the Bulls heading back home with a 2-0 advantage over the Celtics, but the Bulls did. Even after taking Game 1 in the best-of-seven series, few gave the Bulls a chance in the second game. The Bulls went on to win in blowout fashion. Two things happened in Boston that Tuesday night. Both of them could give an edge to the Celtics.
After Game 2 is in the books, an NBA rumor that was fast reaching the surface was Rondo making a controversial observation about his former team. According to the Bleacher Report, Celtics’ guard Avery Bradley overheard Rajon Rondo saying that his former team gave up.
That news coming out is bulletin board material. It is assuredly enough to push the Celtics into playing their best basketball. But the news of Rajon Rondo fracturing his thumb is a huge boon for the Celtics and bad news for the Bulls. Not having Rondo proved to be the difference in the Bulls’ loss in Game 3.
The Bulls needed Rajon Rondo for the first two games, now according to Bulls’ star Dwyane Wade, the onus is on the young players (courtesy of ESPN).
“And our young guys will come in next game and be better. But we can’t look to replace what Rondo brings. His experience is unmatched from that standpoint. But just like every injury, every blow, it hurts the team in the moment, but we have to move past it. And we have to figure out a way with our young point guards and other guys on this roster to just be better next game.”
The young players of the Chicago Bulls must step up to avoid losing the series after building a 2-0 lead. As for the Celtics, who were finally able to take a game from the Bulls, they need at least tie things up because the Bulls are expected to rally around Rondo’s injury. Rondo, for all intents and purposes, is not ruling out an early return.
“It depends on what I can tolerate. I’ll check it every two days, see if I can pick up a ball. But right now I can’t even use a fork with my thumb, so it’s going to take a couple days at a time and see how I feel, and hopefully things get better.”
Game 4 is a must-win for both the Bulls and Celtics. It’s imperative for the Celtics to go back to Boston with the series tied at two games apiece. It would be good for the Celtics’ psyche and give them an edge going forward.
The Chicago Bulls are looking to avoid going back on the road tied. Even without Rajon Rondo leading the charge, the Bulls still have Jimmy Butler and the aforementioned Dwyane Wade. As long as the Bulls avoid playing isolation basketball in Game 4, they should be able to defend their home court.
Not having Rajon Rondo while winning could be a difficult feat for the Bulls, but there was a lesson or two which should have been learned in the first two games. The Chicago Bulls defeated the top-seeded Boston Celtics by playing team basketball. That was absent in Game 3. The pressure may be on the shoulders of Butler and Wade to blanket Celtics’ guard Isaiah Thomas the way Rajon Rondo has. But that is not how the Bulls built their series lead.
Can the Chicago Bulls bounce back in Game 4?
The Chicago Bulls should be able to devise a gameplan to stop the Boston Celtics’ Isaiah Thomas. Perhaps going with Michael Carter-Williams versus Jerian Grant in the starting lineup for Game 4 could take place.
Carter-Williams looks to set up the offense more often than Grant. He could be inserted to give the Bulls into some type of rhythm. And despite embarrassedly losing a jump ball to the 5-foot-9 Isaiah Thomas, defensively his size is enough to bother him. Bringing Grant off the bench would give the Bulls a secondary scoring option to play alongside Bobby Portis and Paul Zipser.
Another tweak that the Chicago Bulls could make is to play Denzel Valentine in spurts. Valentine can shoot, and he could alleviate some of the scoring burden, especially with the Bulls being at home. Valentine has the confidence to knock down shots and he is more than comfortable finding baskets for his teammates. With Rajon Rondo down, it should be time for the Chicago Bulls to finally turn to Denzel Valentine.
The good news for the Chicago Bulls is that they will have two more home games if the Boston Celtics were to climb all the way back in the series. If that happens, it is not inconceivable that Rajon Rondo would return.
[Featured Image by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images]