WARR contributor Josh Hicks offers his thoughts on the Chicago Bulls and the NBA
The Chicago Bulls have gone through numerous inconsistencies throughout the 2016-17 season, to the point where it was impossible to trust or even envision how they would respond to the increased pressure of the NBA playoffs against a No. 1 seed with much to prove itself in the Boston Celtics
After watching the first two games of the 1-8 series, one played out as much in reverse as any series of its type before, I have hope now that the Bulls can get the job done in pulling the “upset” against the Celtics.
I stated in my previous piece for this website that the Bulls have to be locked in on all cylinders in order to have a chance of making this a competitive series. After watching Games 1 and 2, I am convinced that they have a chance to not just continue setting the tone of competitiveness in the series, but a chance to seize the moment and take the series. A win tonight in the series’ first game at the United Center (6 pm, ESPN, CSN-Chicago) would seemingly put them in such a position.
The Bulls seem to be trusting in Fred Hoiberg’s defensive gameplan at this critical point of the season. Isaiah Thomas, Boston’s diminutive but most reliable weapon, is constantly double-teamed and they are forcing the role players to step up, which has not been the case for the Celtics.
Chicago is also shooting the ball better offensively, shooting over 43 percent from the field over the course of both games, and hurting the Celtics in the rebounding department by double digits, capitalizing on the small lineups that the Celtics have been presenting and bringing the physical nature that the Bulls are consistently known for in the playoffs against higher-ranked teams.
Jimmy Butler, Dwayne Wade and Rajon Rondo — the Bulls’ three alpha males — have all come ready for the playoffs, living up to their fullest potential. Butler is averaging 26 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists and 2 blocks so far in this series, his 30 points powered the Bulls through Game 1.
Dwyane Wade may not be the same player that can give 25-30 points a game like he did consistently in Miami, but he can give you the biggest shots when you need them. Wade did that by draining three 3-point shots at the end of the shot clock in Game 2 while chipping down the Cs with an average of 17 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 blocks.
Last, but definitely not least, we cannot forget about the current X-factor for the Bulls in Rajon Rondo. Averaging 12 points, 10 assists and 9 rebounds throughout the series, the mythical “Playoff Rondo” is in effect against the team that made that figure a feared entity. More than anything, Rondo is controlling the tempo of the game, his aggressive pushes in transition make the Bulls offense easier to run and get into, an element the Bulls did not always have throughout the regular season.
Unfortunately, news broke early Friday that Rondo is now out indefinitely and is likely to miss Game 3 with a small fracture in his right thumb. Without their floor general, the Bulls offense can be difficult to get into, it’ll be up mostly to the duo of Jerian Grant and Michael Carter-Williams to maintain some consistency from the floor general position.
Also, with the Celtics losing two straight games at home, we must expect Isaiah Thomas to lead an electric charge in Boston’s chance of redemption here in Chicago. But with the emergence of Butler, Wade, Robin Lopez’s all-around presence in the post, the increased play of the Bulls’ role players and improved defensive commitment, I believe that the Bulls still have enough in the tank to win the series and protect their court at the Madhouse on Madison.
If the Bulls continue their elite level of play, they should close out the series 4-2.
Game 3: @ Chicago — Tonight, 6 pm (ESPN, CSNC)
Game 4: @ Chicago — Sunday, 5:30 pm (TNT, CSNC)
Game 5: @ Boston — Wednesday, TBD
Game 6: @ Chicago — April 28, TBD
Game 7: @ Boston — April 30, TBD
*All times central
Joshua M. Hicks is a sports writer and broadcaster and a recent graduate of Roosevelt University, follow him on Twitter @jhicks042