BOSTON—Halfway to history, leaving nothing to chance.
The TD Garden was the Bulls' personal playpen on Tuesday night in their decisive 111-97 win, as the veteran leaders sensed before the game an opportunity was upon them and weren't going to leave anything to chance.
They wanted to make the Celtics quit, and Rajon Rondo wasn't shy about letting everybody know exactly what his intentions were.
Jimmy Butler is intent on showing the front office that he's a No. 1 guy you build around, not one you dangle to jumpstart a rebuild.
Dwyane Wade, seemingly the one with nothing to prove, wants to show he's still living for May and June.
The three were actually greeted by Celtics GM Danny Ainge after they left their press conference, exchanging pleasantries.
Wade has put Ainge out, Ainge wants Butler in, and Ainge knows exactly what "Playoff Rondo" is all about.
Three individual agendas, one common goal.
Wade fourth-quarter daggers, scoring 11 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter.
Butler doing it all with 22 points, eight rebounds and eight assists.
Their elevator goes higher than the Celtics on talent and experience, with veterans who are aroused by the pressure of the playoffs compared to the often-mundane regular season.
Butler, Wade and Rondo met together for an hour after the team's morning shootaround, they revealed to CSNChicago.com.
No coaches, no teammates, because they knew the burden of advancing fell on they and they alone.
They were going over everything, from strategy to philosophy to even some impromptu play calls they made on the fly.
Considering everything the team has been through this season—and more specifically, the Three Alphas have been through—the meeting of the minds was of grown men who were all on the same page, finally.
Wade said he, LeBron James and Chris Bosh would have similar meetings after morning shootarounds during their days in Miami, leading to four straight trips to the NBA Finals and two titles.
"It was great, spending time with those guys," Wade said to CSNChicago.com after he, Butler and Rondo left the podium on Tuesday night. "Listening to their basketball minds, all of us listening to each other's mind and on the same page. People forget, we just got together. It doesn't just happen. You gotta go through something for it to happen. The best thing is, we went through the adverse situation."
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Wade chuckled because he knew what came to mind, considering the three were in the eye of a storm three months ago after a frustrating loss to the Hawks. Wade and Butler were beyond incensed after blowing a 10-point lead in the last 3 minutes, making subtle and pointed comments about teammates not being focused enough on winning.
The next day, Rondo took to Instagram to call out Wade and Butler. From that point, imagining those three together on a playoff podium seemed as unlikely as an eighth seed beating a one seed in the NBA Playoffs.
Improbable, but not impossible.
"We didn't even have to talk about it," Wade said to CSNChicago.com "Every team I've been on, we've hit adversity at some point. Some, in the playoffs. You wanna hit it before the playoffs and I think we hit it before the playoffs. It made us better, communicate better. Lead better."
While on the podium a few minutes earlier, Wade joked that he "hated" Rondo competitively due to their playoff battles of years' past.
"That hate is that respect," Wade said to the media. "When we played against Boston back in the day, he knew all the plays. He messes up your first option. And then he knows the second option. We were just good enough to have a third option. He was that good."
Now that respect has turned into trust after all three have gone through individual turmoil this season, with Rondo being benched, Wade going through his elbow injury and Butler enduring another season of trade rumors and questions about his leadership.
Now, they're leaning on each other on the floor and figuring out how to make the best of a high-pressure playoff run. When Rondo launches an 80-foot pass to a 6-foot-7 wide receiver that would make Fred Hoiberg cuss under his breath, that's trust. When Butler passes up a lane to feed a cutting Wade for a dunk on the break, that's a team growing to believe in itself.
"I know what Rondo brings," Wade said to CSNChicago.com. "As somebody who played against him. Now I get to experience it up close and personal, I f------ love it. Because he's gonna make sure he's prepared, the last guy on the bench is prepared. Coach is prepared, he's gonna challenge everyone to be as prepared as he is. And when your point guard, your leader is prepared, we're all prepared."
Calling Rondo "our point guard" wasn't a slip of the tongue, as Wade told Rondo after the game, "Way to lead your team tonight."
When Wade signed with the Bulls, he openly stated it was Butler's team and he was there to aid the growing star. Now, he's taking even more of a backseat, ceding space on the floor for Rondo to dominate and be the maestro who gets everyone involved.
"I played on so many teams, man. At the end of the day, I'm all about winning," Wade said to CSNChicago.com. "You know what the easy thing is? It's easy to tell somebody else to play a role, you know what I'm saying?
"To be a successful team, everybody's got a role. Jimmy's got a role. His role is to be a No. 1 option. I got a role. If you wanna be able to tell people to play their role, you gotta be able to play their role. I had a time where I had the ball every damn play. 35 years old, I don't need that role. My job is to support Jimmy and if they need me to lead, I'll do my job."
Part of his job has been to warn teammates about the perils of relaxing upon coming home, even though Wade himself has never stolen two games on the road to start a playoff series.
But even he admits he doesn't know how this wild, winding ride will end. All he knows is it's exciting and exhilarating.
"This is the only reason I play. Eighty-two games is great but I'm built for this moment," Wade said. "The reason I signed here, I talked to Jimmy, was about this. Talked to Rondo, was about this. We didn't just wanna get in. We had to learn each other. We had to learn how to play together. At the end of the day, this is what we're built for. And we're getting better. We're getting better, still as the season went on. That's the crazy thing. Hopefully there's more season to go on."