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NBA PM: Rondo Leading an Improbable Bulls Run

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Dwyane Wade hated playing against Rajon Rondo when the Miami HEAT and Boston Celtics would meet in the playoffs.

Given Rondo’s recent resurgence, it’s safe to say that Wade is glad the two are now teammates.

Rondo has played a major role in the Chicago Bulls’ improbable 2-0 series lead over the Eastern Conference’s top-seeded Boston Celtics. Rondo recorded 11 points, 14 assists, nine rebounds and five steals to lead the Bulls to an 111-97 win on Tuesday night.

Rondo joined Michael Jordan as the only players in Bulls playoff history to put up 10 assists and five steals in a postseason game and he finished just one rebound shy of the first Bulls postseason triple-double since Scottie Pippen in 1997.

“(Rondo) was the key early in the game,” Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He got us good shots early to get us some confidence. That rubs off on all the other guys. He has been in big moments.”

Rondo’s play during the first two games of this series has been reminiscent of how he played with the Celtics years ago. Wade saw that firsthand and has been impressed with his recent performances.

“When we played against Boston back in the day, Rondo knew all of the plays,” Wade said. “He messes up your first option and then he knows the second option. We were just good enough to have a third option, but he was that good. I think for myself and Jimmy [Butler] to have someone who is so locked in that gives us a different voice. Fred gives us a voice and Rondo gives us another voice.

“He’s so locked in. We know we can go to him and ask him anything because he’s watching film all of the time. It’s key. When you have a point guard like him, that controls the whole game, you just got to play. Our job was easy. We just had to play. As I told him, ‘Way to run your team.’ He did an amazing job with that.”

His resurgence in two games against his former team has been surprising. Earlier this season, Rondo was benched for lackluster play and his future with the team was even in question. There were many times throughout the season that the Bulls’ front office was criticized for signing Rondo in the first place.

The point guard’s play for the Bulls has been uneven throughout most of the year. Rondo appeared in 69 games this season and started 42 of those outings, while Michael Carter-Williams and Jerian Grant also earned starts as well. While they have played inconsistently at times this season, and have battled through adversity on and off of the court, the Bulls seem to be peaking at the right time.

Despite all of the drama that has followed Rondo throughout the year, he appears to have put it behind him.

“I just stayed in the gym and worked,” Rondo said. “I don’t think it’s nothing I’ve done as far as the mindset. I’ve been a little bit more aggressive offensively, but before the game, Jimmy and D-Wade kept telling me to shoot the ball and stay aggressive. With them telling me that, I just try to go out there and do what I need to do for my teammates; lead by example with my voice. I know I got a tough task chasing [Isaiah Thomas] all over the court so I just try to go out there and do the intangibles for my team.”

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Watching the Bulls jump out to a 2-0 series lead over the Celtics seems even more shocking given their drama-filled season. Of course, there was the infamous spat Rondo had with Wade and Butler where he questioned their leadership skills and effort in a post on his Instagram account. There were some that have even questioned whether or not Hoiberg was the right choice to lead this Bulls team. Then, Butler emerged in trade conversations leading up to the trade deadline with this very Celtics team they hold a 2-0 series lead over. Sure, teams go through their fair share of drama and adversity, but the Bulls seemed like anything but a playoff team at times this season.

“One thing I learned about this team is through adverse situations, this team sticks together,” Wade said. “We had adversity throughout this year as every team has and that’s the thing that’s made us closer and stronger together. The credit for this team sticking together through injuries and everything to put ourselves into position to make the playoffs it goes to everyone from the coaching staff to the leaders to the young guys. Everyone did it together.”

While Rondo has been outstanding thus far against the Celtics, it’s been a team effort that has allowed the Bulls to play well during the first two games of this series. The Bulls outrebounded the Celtics by 21 in Game 1 and did so for most of Game 2 before the Celtics were able to even it up near the end of the game.

They have received great contributions from the starters, as well as Bobby Portis and Paul Zipser off of the bench. Of course, having Jimmy Butler play at an All-Star level has been the biggest factor for the Bulls. He has totaled 52 points, 17 rebounds, 11 assists, five steals and three blocks so far this series. When Butler can receive help from other players on the team, the Bulls have proven to be a tough opponent.

“When I’m open, I normally shoot the ball,” Butler said. “Sometimes when I’m not open I also shoot the ball. But the majority of the time, I pass it to the open guy and when they’re making shots, my job is a lot easier. People can’t load up on me and then on top of everything else, [Rondo and Wade] do a lot of that as well — when they’re attacking, they’re being aggressive and they’re getting everybody else involved and especially when we’re getting stops… Man, when we’re getting stops, we’re pretty tough.”

Although they’re up 2-0 in this series, the Bulls know there is still a lot of work left to be done. Teams have come back from 3-1 series leads before to win a series, so they know there is a long way to go. Game 3 will be their biggest game of the season and their biggest test yet.

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A wild season looks to have a few more twists and turns in store for this Bulls squad.

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About Cody Taylor

Cody Taylor

Cody Taylor is an NBA writer entering his fourth season with Basketball Insiders. He covers the league out of Orlando and Miami, focusing on the Southeast Division.