CHICAGO – Rajon Rondo has had a few nights this season in which he has spent the entire game on the Chicago Bulls bench.
But Friday night was different.
A right thumb fracture in Game 2 kept the former Celtic guard out for Friday night’s Game 3 matchup with his former team.
And man, was his absence noticeable.
- Highlights: Boston Celtics 104, Chicago Bulls 87
- Rajon Rondo says he was stretching leg, not trying to trip Jae Crowder
- Green's presence in starting lineup opens up floor for other Celtics shooters
The Boston Celtics had little trouble most of the night securing their first win in this series with a 104-87 Game 3 victory.
Boston now trails the best-of-seven series 2-1 with Game 4 here in Chicago on Sunday.
The big story of the night was Rondo’s absence, something the Bulls said they did not learn about until Thursday night.
Chicago started Jerian Grant in place of Rondo, but he provided little impact or production in finishing with six points on 2-for-5 shooting with zero assists and four turnovers.
And while Jimmy Butler was expected to pick up some of the playmaking slack with Rondo out, he played just under 39 minutes and did not register a single assist.
As a team, Chicago tallied just 14 assists which equaled the number of assists Rondo had in Game 2.
“We are going to miss Rondo, no doubt about that,” said Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg. “But, at the same time we do have confidence in our other guys.”
He has to, especially considering the timetable which doesn’t look good for Rondo’s return in this series.
“I’m not sure how long I will be out,” Rondo told reporters after Friday’s loss. “The doctors told me a couple of weeks; we’ll see how it goes.”
Rondo’s right hand is currently in a cast, although that has more to do with the wrist injury that he has played through recently. It’ll come off in 7-10 days which is when they’ll re-evaluate where he is in terms of his recovery.
But listening to Rondo, it doesn’t sound like he expects to be back on the court anytime soon.
“I can’t even pick up a ball right now,” Rondo said. “I can’t even use a fork or use my thumb right now. I’ll take a couple of days and see how it feels.”
While his overall production has been among the keys to Chicago winning seven of its last nine regular season games to get into the playoffs, his leadership has been even more valuable.
“We all talk about pace,” said Bulls star Dwyane Wade. “But also having just another coach on the floor. You have a guy who has been in so many playoff series, been in a finals and won a championship. You can’t replace that. Our young guys will come in the next game and be better.”
That’s not all that shocking when you consider how bad they played in Game 3.
Michael Carter-Williams, who was back in the rotation as Grant’s backup, struggled as well. The former NBA rookie of the year missed four of his five shots from the field, scoring two points while grabbing four rebounds and three assists and three turnovers.
And while there were a number of players who stepped up for the Celtics, Rondo’s absence certainly helped Boston get a much-needed victory.
“He’s obviously a really good player who had two really good games,” said Boston head coach Brad Stevens. “So, I thought we played with a lot more … we played a lot more connected than maybe we did the first two games. But certainly when you’re missing a good player that’s impactful … they got other good players that hurt us before.”