The Chicago Bulls have a huge issue.
Right after the refreshing team play in game 2 lead by “playoff Rondo,” the news came out that the 4-time All-Star would miss at least the rest of the series with a fractured thumb. Many wondered what the combination of Michael Carter-Williams and Jerian Grant would provide in his absence. The answer to that is absolutely nothing.
The pair was overwhelmed early. Grant started and turned the ball over 4 times in the first 15 minutes. Fred Hoiberg then immediately went to Carter-Williams who finished the game 1-5 with three turnovers. After Rondo’s near triple-double in game 2, the combo of MCW and Grant combined for 7 turnovers and 3 assists in 38 minutes. There were times where Jimmy Butler and Dwayne Wade handled guard duties, but neither are fully equipped for the position in terms of distribution.
The Boston Celtics were phenomenal, especially defensively. The Bulls committed 18 turnovers and were bothered by the Celtics’ small ball lineup. They masterfully moved the ball around on offense taking advantage of the Bulls’ turnovers and slow feet to the tune of 34 total assists. They also made 17 threes in the game which is the most the Bulls have ever allowed in the playoffs. At their best, Boston is a great jump shooting team that has the footspeed and dedication on defense to make life hard on the perimeter. Without the guidance of Rondo, the Bulls need to focus on taking advantage of the smaller Celtics by pounding the ball inside.
However, the absence of Rondo was not the only problem. Jimmy Butler had his worst playoff game in 3 years going 7-21 with zero assists or free throws. After playing brilliantly in games 1 and 2 he will need to bounce back in a major way in game 4 for the Bulls to have a shot. Dwayne Wade led the Bulls with 18 but is no longer the type of player that can carry an entire team on his back through a series. In order for the Bulls to go, it has to be Butler.
Boston will look to continue to exploit Chicago’s lack of a competent primary ball handler in game 4. They know that without Rondo this Bulls team is different and came out prepared to exploit that. After looking overwhelmed in games 1 and 2 it appears we now have a series. The beauty of basketball and especially the NBA playoffs are the adjustments and storylines that take place over the course of a series or even a single game. It will be interesting to see if Boston is able to keep the pressure on or if the Bulls will find a solution either through better play from the Grant/Williams combo or by going in another direction.
Tipoff for game 4 is tonight at 6:30 pm on TNT.