Part of the reason the Bulls’ offense looked so different and energetic compared to the past week was due to an indifferent Pistons team and an engaged Bulls’ defense anchored by Robin Lopez.
The other reason is because Rajon Rondo was visible and effective, end to end, almost to the point where one thought he had one too many Red Bull’s before the game and a crash was near.
Fortunately for the Bulls, there was no crash and if one was coming the damage was already done as Rondo’s season-high 14 assists was a byproduct of the Bulls getting out and running all night in their 31-point win Monday.
“If we come out with a defensive focus and mindset, it’s so much easier to play offense when you’re not taking the ball out of the net,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “I think we shot 79 percent in that first quarter.”
The Bulls shot 73 percent in the first half and took a 38-point lead at one point in the second quarter.
“Rondo was huge in that stretch,” Hoiberg said at Wednesday’s practice at the Advocate Center. “He was getting that ball down the floor. Having 24 assists in that first half was huge. Give Rondo a lot of credit for that.”
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Although not an exact science, there’s some merit to the Bulls being a better team when Rondo is leading the pack. When Rondo has nine assists or more, the Bulls are 7-0. But of Rondo’s eight lowest assist games where he’s gotten five or fewer, the Bulls are 2-6.
It’s not necessarily a situation where Rondo is or isn’t setting up his teammates but also a function of his teammates hitting shots, most notably Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic.
Both scored 12 and looked far more confident together than they probably have all season. Just the threat of a McDermott triple in transition allowed Jimmy Butler to slide backdoor for an alley-oop—aided by Rondo faking a shovel pass to McDermott, freezing the defense and resulting in a spectacular play.
“I did think our guys were headhunting his man (McDermott’s) in transition. Rondo called a couple good plays for him as far as getting him coming off screens,” Hoiberg said. “He’s (McDermott) a weapon out there. We have to make sure we’re using him the right way when he’s on the floor.”
While the Bulls’ fortunes don’t completely rely on Rondo, he’s a big enough key to achieving some level of consistency over the next several games.
“I think a lot of it is going out and playing with a confidence every night,” Hoiberg said. “The consistency comes with habits that we try and build in practice.”