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Rajon Rondo is out indefinitely with a broken thumb. This stinks for multiple reasons, but especially so if you're the Chicago Bulls, an No. 8-seed up 2-0 on the reeling Boston Celtics in large part because Rondo has miraculously turned into his pre-torn-ACL self.
The four-time All-Star looked good after the All-Star break, but so much of it seemed unsustainable. After posting 37.2/31.6/54.5 shooting splits in his first 48 games, Rondo went on an absolute tear. He knocked down 46.3 percent of his threes and 70.6 percent of his free throws.
A triple-double addict once again, Rondo's resurgence helped catalyze a group that drifted in and out of a coma all year long. They wouldn't be in the playoffs without him. Making matters worse, Rondo saved his best for his former team. His 22.5 PER is higher than it's ever been before in the postseason, and his value hasn't been this clear in a very long time.
Chicago's net rating in the 1st round w/ Rondo on the floor: +14.5
Chicago's net rating in the 1st round w/ Rondo on the bench: -5.4
— Michael Pina (@MichaelVPina) April 21, 2017
So where do the Bulls turn from here? Step one: Cover your eyes. Jerian Grant and Michael Carter-Williams are the two candidates most likely to step in and replace Rondo in the starting lineup. Cameron Payne, the ostensible jewel acquired at the trade deadline for Doug McDermott and Taj Gibson, is active.
This is bad, but things could be worse. The Bulls have Jimmy Butler, the best two-way player in the series. Dwyane Wade scored 22 points on 16 shots and was a menace in Game 2. Robin Lopez is still a Tyrannosaurus Rex.
Butler already played 43 minutes in Game 2, so assuming he can handle a heavier workload without Rondo is asking a lot—considering he already has to chase Avery Bradley around screens and check Isaiah Thomas in crunch time. Wade has experience as a playmaker, but it's doubtful he can initiate Chicago's offense and look to create for others on a consistent basis anymore. He's a finisher.
Fred Hoiberg may start off with Carter-Williams (his length is Chicago's best weapon to slow Thomas down), but beyond that his rotation is up in the air and a big concern. Unless Chicago goes point guard-free and lets Butler or Wade handle the ball on a full-time basis, Boston can now hide Thomas on the defensive end. (A major development.)
Rondo has been terrific on both ends. He pressed Thomas, crept into passing lanes, and orchestrated Chicago's attack as well as he has since they signed him. But injuries are a part of the playoffs, and the Celtics surely don't feel sorry for Chicago after they themselves lost Kelly Olynyk and Avery Bradley during last season's first-round series against the Atlanta Hawks.
Boston's climb to win this series is still steep, but they're now playing a team that has one arm tied behind its back. We may very well be headed for seven.