By Aaron Jackson
All hope was lost for the Boston Celtics after game 2 of the first round. They had just been manhandled for the second game in a row by the 8th seeded Chicago Bulls, and looked lost on the court. Making matters worse, there was noticeable bickering among players. But, as has happened so many times this season, the Celtics were given a gift from above and a second chance at life. Here’s why the Rajon Rondo fractured thumb saved Boston’s season.
- The Bulls offensive efficiency drops significantly without their point guard. A Rondo led Bulls team produces offense at a rate of 114 points per game and their efficiencies go through the roof. Without Rondo, the Bulls become stale and stagnant while averaging 104 points per game. That 10 points is a huge swing in the NBA.
- His absence may even be more noticeable on the defensive end. Rondo seemed like he knew the Celtics passing lanes better than they did, making easy interceptions of numerous passes in the first two games. That showed in his team’s defensive efficiency. On the court the Bulls held the Celtics to a 99 points per game average. When he was on the bench the C’s scored at a 110 point rate. Again, that’s a huge difference and when combining both efficiencies we’re talking a 20 point swing.
- Rondo’s absence has forced the Bulls to play Jerian Grant, who averages less than 2 assists per game and couldn’t stick with the New York Knicks last year. When he’s not on the court they’ve been playing Isaiah Canaan, who averages less than 1 assist a game and couldn’t stick with the Philadelphia 76ers. Former rookie of the year Michael Carter Williams is the final choice, but he’s averaging 1 point and 1 assist a game while turning it over twice. In fact, this threesome combined is averaging more turnovers than assists in the series.
- This has led to the Bulls doing something I’m guessing they didn’t want to do; play Jimmy Butler for huge minutes at the point. He’s averaging 42 minutes per game, and played 46 of 48 in game 4. To put that in perspective, Isaiah Thomas is averaging 36 minutes a game to lead Boston. This has led to Butler looking gassed at the end of these last two games, whereas in the first two he was a defensive juggernaut on Thomas late. It’s also dropped his efficiency ratings significantly, as he thrives on hitting the open shots created for him by Rondo.
- This one surprised me a little bit, but believe it or not Rajon Rondo has also had a big impact on the way the Celtics have rebounded. You could see it a little in game 3 and a lot in game 4. Without the threat of those typical Rondo drives/floaters/behind the back assists, the Celtics forwards are able to stay at home and actually attempt to get position. This has led to about a 4-6 rebound difference per game in favor of the Celtics. With the Celtics actually going smaller as the series goes on, that number should be going in the other direction.
I’m not going to sit here and say that there aren’t other factors that led to the change in this series. Starting Gerald Green was a stroke of genius for Brad Stevens, and giving more minutes to Terry Rozier and Jonas Jerebko have helped too. But unless your glasses are tinted so green you can’t see that it’s painfully obvious the biggest difference in this series is the loss of Rondo on the Bulls.
Aaron Jackson (@AaronRJackson on Twitter) is a host on The Drive, weekdays 4pm to 6pm on 92.9fm The Ticket and streaming live at DriveShowMaine.com. Follow us on Twitter, @DriveShowmMaine and “Like Us” on Facebook, Drive Show Maine.