Bulls

With Rajon Rondo sidelined indefinitely, more pressure shifts to Jimmy Butler, Jerian Grant for Game 3

With Rajon Rondo sidelined indefinitely, more pressure shifts to Jimmy Butler, Jerian Grant for Game 3

The consistent theme in this Bulls season has been the presence of adversity, so with the team on the doorstep of an improbable outcome, Rajon Rondo's broken thumb seems to be par for a treacherous course.

Rondo will miss Game 3 and quite possibly the rest of the Bulls' first-round series against the Boston Celtics with the injury that puts his season and the Bulls' chances moving forward in these playoffs in jeopardy.

Should the Bulls advance to the second round, one would think it would increase the chance of a Rondo return, but a broken thumb is pretty severe and Rondo was already playing on an injured right wrist — his shooting hand.

Rondo dominated Game 2 with 11 points, 14 assists and nine rebounds in 40 minutes and is averaging a near triple-double in the first two games this series, with 8.5 rebounds to go with 11.5 points and 10 assists.

He didn't appear to show any ill effects at Thursday's practice but had his hand wrapped after his press conference following Game 2, a source told CSNChicago.com.

"When I saw him at practice I knew something was up. I was hoping it wasn't that," Jimmy Butler said. "But it's tough when any of your soldiers go down, man. Especially someone who wants to win as bad as he does, that studies the game and wants to do well by everybody like he does. It's definitely a loss for all of us. But damn. I mean, we wish we had him, but we don't. There's not too much more to say about it."

The Bulls found out the news late Thursday night and issued a statement shortly before letting the media into the morning shootaround, as Rondo was not present.

"It happened sometime in the third quarter," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. "It sounds like he was swiping up for the ball. He either hit the ball or (Kelly) Olynyk's elbow and that's where the fracture occurred.

"It shows the toughness of Rajon Rondo to continue to fight through and battle and play pretty much the rest of that game. Last night, you could tell in talking to him that something wasn't right. Everybody who plays this game jams fingers and thumbs all the time. But he said this one was a little different. So to get the news last night was very tough."

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And it seemed as if the team knew it at the morning shootaround at the United Center, hours before taking the floor against a Celtics team that could suddenly have new life if it believes Rondo was the top reason for all the disruption in the first two games.

"Yeah, we're down one of our soldiers," Butler said. "But (Rondo) wouldn't be in here moping around. (Rondo) would be like, 'Yo, let's go.' That's what you have to do. We can't feel bad for ourselves now that one of our best players is gone. It's some big shoes to fill, but we've got to have it happen."

After all, seeing Jerian Grant and Michael Carter-Williams doesn't inspire the same fear as "Playoff Rondo." Butler spoke in hushed tones about "Do" (sounds like "dough"), and it's hard to see how his absence won't affect this team's spirit.

"I didn't see that. I saw a group of guys who came in here with a lot of focus and were locked into the film session that we had and walkthrough we had on the floor," Hoiberg said. "You have to stay positive throughout this. Guys have confidence in Jerian and Michael."

Butler will likely shift over to take more ball-handling responsibilities, as he's done so much of in the regular season, but he'll also have to do a lion's share of guarding Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas, whom Rondo has defended well with his length and physicality.

Grant will start, but Butler will be the main facilitator.

"We're going to miss him, the pace that he sets for the team, the leadership that he brings, and the way that he plays," Butler said. "We've still got to go out there. We're expected to win. We know what we're capable of. I guess we're doing this for him now.

"Without him it will be a little bit tougher, but everybody counted us out before anyway, so I think we'll be OK. I like the way we're playing. Everyone knows what's at stake, what we have to do. We're mixing it up, unfortunately, but I think they're ready."

Bulls' defense is trending upward, leads NBA in forcing turnovers, steals

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USA Today

Bulls' defense is trending upward, leads NBA in forcing turnovers, steals

Just over midway through the third quarter Wednesday night, Kris Dunn cleanly picked Derrick Rose’s pocket for a steal.

“I love getting steals. That’s been my game since high school. That’s what I do. I take pride in that,” Dunn said following Thursday’s practice at Advocate Center. “I think my teammates know, the coaches know, the other teams know defense is what I do. And I try to inspire that in others.”

With 17 Pistons’ turnovers, the Bulls have now forced 15 or more turnovers in all 15 games this season.

The last time they did this---in 1980---nobody on the current roster was born. Jim Boylen was in high school in Grand Rapids, Mich. No NBA team has opened a season in similar fashion since the 76ers did in 2004, per Elias Sports Bureau.

The Bulls lead the NBA in overall steals and rank second behind Friday’s opponent, the Heat, in steals per game. Dunn ranks third behind league leader Jimmy Butler, in town Friday, and Ben Simmons with 2.13 steals per game.

The Bulls also lead the NBA in forced turnovers per game at 18.8 and points off turnovers.

“I think our defense is built to force turnovers, the system that we run,” Dunn said. “We’re blitzing guys, trying to get the ball out of their hands. You have to make them make a read. Our defense is built so that after we blitz, we have a triangle (of defenders) behind. If they make a mistake in the read, it often leads to a turnover. We have a lot of good defenders on this team who can create turnovers.”

Shaq Harrison’s emergency starter status now that both Otto Porter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison are on the shelf aids in this department. He led the NBA in steals-per-minute last season and posted three versus the Pistons. Hutchison is doubtful for Friday’s game against the Heat.

“I’ve been doing that my whole life,” Harrison said of getting steals. “Every coach I’ve played for has been a defensive-minded coach and wants me to get into people. It’s been embedded into my mind to get steals and deflections and pick guys up to play hard 100 percent of the time.

“I think defense and that mentality is 90 percent toughness and heart and then 10 percent skill. Anybody can do it at this level if you truly put your mind to it.”

Despite their penchant for steals and forcing turnovers, the Bulls rank 14th in defensive rating. That’s middle-of-the-pack stuff, although it’s trending upward over the last five games. And it’s reflective of their poor defensive rebounding, occasionally poor defensive transition and inability to limit dribble penetration.

In detailing his defensive philosophy, coach Jim Boylen cited those three areas as need for improvement. That’s borne out in the Bulls allowing too many shots at the rim. What’s wild is they lead the league in offensive attempts within 5 feet but also allow the second-most in the league.

“We do not teach to steal the ball. I’m not a big out-of-position-to-steal-the-ball guy,” Boylen said. “What we have coached hard---and I guess well at times---is hand position, body position and doing your work early. I think that has put us in position sometimes to knock some balls loose or pick a couple off. But I’m not big on getting out of position to try to get a steal. It’s not who I am. It’s not who we want to be.”

Dunn said he sees “no downside” to the Bulls’ defensive’ scheme as long as it’s played with energy and communication. The Bulls have had trouble making quick and proper rotations if they don’t force a turnover, although that area too has improved over the last eight games.

The Bulls rank ninth in defensive rating over their last eight games.

“I give our guys credit,” Boylen said. “They’ve really bought into what our defense looks like now. Early, we struggled to get to the corner, to adjust and shift. I think there’s a familiarity now. There’s a learning curve in every defensive situation. I also think there’s defensive chemistry. And I think we can still grow.

“My assistant coaches have done a great job of sticking to what we believe in. We’ve coached basically the same thing since Day One. I feel we have a foundation. We need to be more consistent and play better. But we’re coaching to a system.”

Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Luol Deng is honored in win over Pistons

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USA TODAY

Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Luol Deng is honored in win over Pistons

On this edition of Bulls Outsiders, Matt Peck, John Sabine and David Watson react to the Bulls 109-89 win over the Pistons.

1:00 - Reaction to the win over Detroit

3:25 - Viewer comment on Bulls still having hope in the Eastern Conference

4:30 - Did Lauri Markkanen finally break out of his slump?

6:30 - Viewer comment on Zach LaVine and if he still fits

8:15 - Shaq Harrison balls out starting at SF

9:30 - Big Dave does Shaq highlites

11:50 - Viewer comment on James Harden or Luka Doncic?

13:30 - Viewer question on who has bigger hands- Will Perdue or Kendall Gill?

15:15 - Bulls honor Luol Deng and 2009 Bulls team

18:05 - Viewer comment on greater Bull- Joakim Noah or Deng?

21:00 - Viewer comment on Otto Porter Jr.’s return

23:30 - Reacting to Derrick Rose’s comments about load management

Listen to the episode here or in the embedded player below.

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