Rajon Rondo during warmups prior to Game 5 of the first round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)
It’s pretty obvious by now. If Rajon Rondo doesn’t force himself off the bench and out of his sensational civilian wardrobe and into the Bulls lineup on Friday in Game 6, this series is dead and buried. The Celtics will be moving onto the Eastern Conference semifinals for the first time since 2012.
Rondo broke a bone in his right thumb in the second half of Game 2 last Tuesday. He sat out Games 3 and 4 on the sidelines for the Bulls, and was even fined $25K for trying to trip Jae Crowder. He said Wednesday that an x-Ray Tuesday showed some improvement but not enough for him to play in Game 5.
Fred Hoiberg has tried Jerian Grant, Michael Carter-Williams and Isaiah Canaan. The Bulls coach started Grant in Games 3 and 4 and were manhandled by the Celtics.
Canaan showed promised starting the second half of Game 4 and earned the start Wednesday night in Game 5. He was 6-for-11 with 13 points. He was also a minus-13. The Bulls starting point guard Wednesday did not have a single assist in 36 minutes of action.
After the game, Dwyane Wade acknowledged that he is -for all intents and purposes – the point guard and finished with eight assists.
“I can’t speak to the details, I need to go watch the film to know exactly what happened,” Wade said of his team’s 16 turnovers leading to 23 points. “Looking at the box score, they scored 29 to our 16 (in the fourth quarter). So, they executed better, they made more shots; they got to the foul line as well got some and-1s. When you’re in a series like this small details are very important. They got some things on us that we didn’t want to give up.”
But Wade knows what the Bulls have forfeited over the last three games. After winning the first two games in Boston, the Bulls have fallen apart without Rondo in the last three games.
Wade tried to spin technical foul calls on him and Robin Lopez into a hollow defense that included pride and intensity.
“I’ve been a one seed before against an 8-seed,” Wade said. “I understand what it means, especially on the road. Letting these guys know there are games where you’re not gonna get a call to our liking. The home team gonna get a little more cooking than you. Emotion run high, I’d rather see that than nothing. It shows that people care.”
The people of Chicago aren’t going to care about Game 6 Friday night at the United Center if Rondo hasn’t shed the cast on his right hand and is out on the court.
When Wade hasn’t been on the court and Jimmy Butler has been, the Bulls have been trying to run the offense through Butler. Nothing has worked, even though they’ve tried.
“We run a lot to Jimmy it’s not about the shot selection,” Wade said. “We put the ball in his hand. At the same time they are keying in on him. He made the right place and guys got open shots. He did what he was supposed to do.”
The frustration was perfectly captured when Fred Hoiberg was asked by WEEI’s Josue Pavon if he thinks Rajon Rondo got away with traveling again in Game 5 after his complaints after Game 4.
“No,” Hoiberg answered curtly before walking off the stage.
Hoibert was asked why his team collapsed down the stretch. A lot had to do with the defense of Avery Bradley and Al Horford. A lot had to do with Chicago’s inability to run anything remotely resembling a cohesive NBA playoff team.
“We had some empty possessions,” Hoiberg said. “I thought we really attacked the basket. Thought we did a solid job or sharing it.”
Did Hoiberg sense some unraveling?
“Yeah, but also this, I love the way our guys competed,” Hoiberg said. “To come out on the road , to play really, really good basketball for the majority of the first three quarters. The start of the fourth, I thought we got off to a really good start then obviously they took over the last ten minutes. But I love the way our guys competed.”
Those are hollow words that resemble a team collectively whistling by the graveyard without the dominant court leader in Games 1 and 2. Rondo was there Wednesday night on the field, trying to provide whatever support he could. Rondo even tried to keep things loose when he laughed at Robin Lopez’s airmail shot that cleared the backboard from 3 feet out in the third quarter.
There won’t be any laughing in Chicagoland if Rondo doesn’t play Friday, only looking ahead to the Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup playoffs and the Cubs and their pursuit of another World Series crown.