A week is a long time in the NBA. Seven days ago the Chicago Bulls were sitting pretty as Rajon Rondo led them to a 2-0 series lead over Boston. Now? Rondo had to sit out the next three and the Bulls stand on the brink of elimination…
A week ago I was gleefully writing about how the 8th seeded Chicago Bulls had just gone 2-0 up against the number one seed Boston Celtics following two impressive road wins. Former Celtic Rajon Rondo had been the driving force behind the Bulls strong start to the series, and I ended the article by saying “I’m off to go buy a Rondo jersey”.
Well I was true to my word, but it now looks like the Bulls will be eliminated before the jersey even arrives. Why? Because Rondo broke his thumb in that brilliant game two performance and has missed the last three games, all of which have been won fairly comfortably by Boston.
It would still have been difficult for the Bulls even if they had Rondo, but they would have strongly liked their chances of winning one or two of those three games. Without him, they look like a beaten, dispirited bunch with nothing left.
Jimmy Butler may be the star and Dwyane Wade might be the serial winner with the impressive playoff pedigree, but Rondo is the leader of the group not to mention the de facto head coach. He’s the brightest basketball mind at the Bulls and his absence has altered the course of the series and sent the Bulls hurtling towards elimination.
It’s mad to think that a player who was benched and even out of the rotation completely for a decent chunk of the year is now the most important man on the roster, but you only have to see the way players gravitate to him on the sideline or talk about him to the media to know he’s the guy they look to now.
Not having him on the floor has hurt the Bulls in so many ways. He sets the tempo, he makes sure everyone is where they need to be, he was the second leading rebounder on the team in the playoffs, he can help to slow down Isaiah Thomas, he knows every play the opposition are running and perhaps most importantly he can call the plays on the floor, meaning Fred Hoiberg isn’t calling the shots.
While the Bulls roster leaves a lot to be desired (that’s on the front office, but that’s another article for another time), Hoiberg just doesn’t seem to bring anything to the table. What does he actually do well? Can someone please tell me? Anybody?
I’m not basketball savant, but even a layman like me can see that he doesn’t command the respect of the team, doesn’t make players better (none of the Bulls young players have developed under him), doesn’t seem to have any idea about what rotation he should be using (he’s just throwing crap at a wall and seeing what sticks) and his in game decisions are bizarre to say the least.
For example, in game 4 he sat Robin Lopez for the entire fourth quarter even though the big man had been a big reason why the Bulls had gotten back into the game after trailing by 20 points at one stage. The Celtics have no answer to the giant Lopez; he’s been having his way with them all series and yet he was benched when he was needed most.
Then there’s the fiasco involving Thomas. Where to even start with that? He’s 5ft 9 and he was on four fouls. Why would you not go at him defensively on every single play until he fouls out? Hell, they should be going at him on every play and posting him up anyway.
Instead, the Bulls allowed him to do his own thing and continually drive to the basket and shred them for 33 points. If Rondo was on the court that simply wouldn’t have happened as even if he couldn’t have stopped him one on one, he’d have made sure he had help in the middle. Of course, it might have been an idea to have your seven foot centre in the paint too, instead of waving towels on the bench, eh Fred?
To make matters even worse, Hoiberg then went after Thomas post game by complaining about him “discontinuing his dribble”. Technically he’s got a point, but half the NBA does it and it never gets called. Thomas has been doing it all year and not been called on it once, so that’s not going to change now in the playoffs. Pick a fight you at least have a chance of winning. Jeez.
So the upshot of it all is that Chicago are now one game away from their season being over. They have to beat Boston in Chicago on Friday to force a game seven, but the chances of that happening don’t appear to be great. Perhaps Rondo will be back, but if he isn’t then the Bulls would be better served telling Hoiberg to go and take a seat in the stands, stay out of the way and let Rondo coach his team.