BOSTON (CBS) — The Chicago Bulls have been without Rajon Rondo for the last two games of their playoff series against the Celtics, and Boston has taken advantage.
But that may be coming to an end sooner than anyone expected.
A broken thumb forced Rondo to the sideline for Games 3 and 4, where all he could do was wear a short-sleeved suit and attempt to trip Jae Crowder. He was expected to miss significant time with the injury and Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg has already ruled his floor general out for Wednesday night’s Game 5 in Boston. But given Rondo’s toughness when he really wants to play, many wouldn’t be surprised if he suits up with the series knotted at 2-2.
Yahoo! Sports’ Chris Mannix is in that camp, as he explained to 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Toucher & Rich on Tuesday.
“I don’t think its a foregone conclusion that he doesn’t play tomorrow night. I know Fred Hoiberg ruled him out, but that doesn’t carry any kind of weight behind it. He doesn’t have to sit him and if he decides to change his mind,” said Mannix. “Things change on the fly. Talking to a couple of people close to Rondo, they don’t know if he’ll play, but they know he’s going to keep that door open until about and hour, hour-and-a-half before the game. He’s going to try to do everything he possibly can to get out on the floor.
“If there is one thing we know about Rondo in Boston, it’s that he plays through pain. He is among the tougher players that I’ve ever covered. To go 12 minutes in a game with a torn ACL [in 2013]; to play part of that Miami series [in 2011] with a broken and dislocated arm. This guy is tough, and if it’s possible for him to play through I think he’s going to do it. I don’t rule him out completely for tomorrow night,” said Mannix.
Mannix added that Rondo, who is out of a cast and in a splint, will obviously be limited if he does play. That’s something Boston could take advantage of by sending the shaky free throw shooter to the line as much as possible.
“Already, he’s not a good free throw shooter, so I can’t imagine a broken thumb will make him better. Try to disrupt Chicago’s rhythm and force them to take Rondo out of the game anyways and take away any effectiveness he would have,” said Mannix. “He goes out and you see Michael Carter-Willams, Jerian Grant and Isaiah Canaan, they’re not good players. Forcing Jimmy Butler to have the ball in his hand at all times leads to a good stat line for Butler, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets to the line 15-20 times, but that’s not their best strategy. They need Butler off the ball and Rondo running that offense.
“Without Rondo, their offense goes back to that same malfunctioning group it was in early March.”
The war of words is in full swing with the Celtics and Bulls now even, starting with Hoiberg calling out Isaiah Thomas for “palming” the ball. Mannix doesn’t think Hoiberg’s comments will change how officials call the game.
“Wednesday is not going to be the day the NBA decides to call palming. That’s not going to happen. They haven’t done it in decades, and they’re not going to start now,” he said. “That was a goofy criticism to make for Hoiberg, especially since he has a couple of guys in Butler and Wade who do it just as much as Thomas, if not more.”
Mannix said he’s more concerned about Marcus Smart trying to match Jimmy Butler offensively after the Bulls star called out his toughness.
“I don’t want to see [Smart] get into 1-on-1 battle with Butler. That’s not a battle Boston is going to win,” he said. “You don’t want to see him try to prove himself in a series like this by getting overly aggressive on Butler or by trying to match him on the offensive end.
“He is going to get turns on Jimmy Butler in Game 5, but has to avoid getting a little too shot happy, trying to get 20 to match Butler’s 30. That’s what I would be most worried about,” said Mannix.
Mannix also touched on Robin Lopez’s role in the series, and if Boston can negate his dominance on the offensive glass again. Listen to the full podcast below: