What's your fear level on a scale of 10 of a Rondo return and why.
Jeff Clark: I put it at a 4 and that's completely out of respect for how tough and mindbogglingly non-conformist Rondo can be. If there's anyone in the world that can break their shooting hand and come back to make an impact on a series, it would be Rajon.
Bill Sy: It sounds doubtful that he'll play, but I fear the eventual reckoning of Rondo in Game 6 or 7. I'm at a fear level of "Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives." As the series progresses, RR gets more and more tape like an artificial intelligence gone rogue, and you just never know what to expect when he's thrown back into the matrix. I fear a healthy Rondo, but I might fear a one-armed Playoff Rondo even more.
Alex Kungu: Right now I would put it at a 2. Rondo was fantastic in his two games in Boston, but I’m of the mindset that the team’s mind was elsewhere after the Isaiah Thomas tragedy. These last couple games the Celtics have found their groove on both ends of the court, and I’m not sure a non-shooting point guard with a fracture on his shooting hand is going to stop that.
Lachlan Marr: I feel like my fear factor regarding Rondo is probably about a 6. If he were to return it could prove decisive as having him on the court allowed the Bulls to be one step ahead of the Celtics in games 1 and 2. Honestly after those first two games I was ready to say that Stevens had been outcoached, and not by Hoiberg but by Rondo.
So I’m not underestimating the former Celtic’s ability or acumen, but I guess I’m pretty doubtful Rondo will be as effective when playing through injury. What’s more, I feel like Stevens is aware of the Rondo factor now, and the Celtics’ coach’s playbook and bench are both deep enough that I’m confident he’ll be able to come up with combinations even the near-precognitive Rondo couldn’t see coming.
Keith Smith: Somewhere around a 2 or 3. Although we've seen Rondo play with horrific injuries before (that elbow courtesy of now-teammate Dwyane Wade anyone?), and he killed the Celtics in Games 1 and 2, it is hard to imagine him having much of an impact with a broken thumb on his primary hand. You can say "He can't shoot anyway", which is fair. But how will it impact his ability to dribble and pass and defend? Seems like a stretch that he's even close to ready to play.
Jeff Nooney: Somewhere around a 3. But, if his (already enormous) hand swells into some freakish Dave Grohl hand, put me down for a 10. We all know how far Rondo is willing to go for a competitive advantage, so I'm not ruling anything out. Good luck to IT going against that kind of length.
Bobby Manning: THREE. Originally I over-anticipated the power of Rajon Rondo adrenaline versus the way the body actually works. That finger is messed up. He was wearing a cast for a reason, and not to wear the short-sleeved suit. I do think he'll return before the series is over. Obviously he won’t be ready for Game 5, but he is chomping hard to get back. The team ruled him out for the series, you never heard him say that. The reports that came out having him possibly playing tonight definitely came from his push to get back out there, but this series is coming to a close. All you can do is wait when it comes to injuries, and even if Rondo runs back onto the court it'll likely be faster than that thumb comes back to full strength.
What adjustment do you see Hoiberg making, and what could be Stevens's counter?
Jeff Clark: It sounds like Hoiberg is going to start Isaiah Canaan in order to disrupt Isaiah Thomas's ball handling. That's cute and all, but Canaan just isn't very good, and Thomas enjoyed some of his late game success when Canaan was matched up with him.
Bill Sy: To free up IT, the Celtics have been running a lot of high pick-and-rolls and creating a lot of space for Thomas to attack the rim. I could see Chicago adding another safety spy on the weak side to force Thomas to kick out and live with guys like Green, Bradley, and Crowder beating them from the perimeter. If the Bulls pack the paint like they did the last time the series was in Boston, look for Brown and Jerebko to make their first impact as cutters and finishers around the rim.
Alex Kungu: I’m not sure there’s anything he really can do except hope Rondo saves them. Bulls don’t necessarily have a roster built around being able to play small effectively, which is where a lot of criticism of the front office came from. The Bulls’ biggest advantage in this series was playing big, controlling the tempo, and letting Butler take them home. Boston countered with going small, which is not only helping them manufacture great quality shots, but they’ve done a great job of crashing the glass, and have neutralized the Bulls. Barring anything drastic like another Bobby Portis game, I don’t think the Bulls have an answer for the Celtics.
Lachlan Marr: If Rondo doesn’t return then the Bulls still have a serious problem with playmaking. Jerian Grant clearly still isn’t ready, and Michael Carter-Williams has made a mess of the short run he’s been given. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Hoiberg heading to the deep bench and throwing Isaiah Canaan into the starting lineup. As Canaan logged the most minutes at the position in the last game, the starter label would really just be a formality, but it would definitely make sense for Hoiberg to put their most effective point guard in as early as possible.
Keith Smith: We're going to see the Bulls go without a traditional point guard more often. Maybe at the end of each half. Jimmy Butler will handle the playmaking on offense, and Chicago will cobble together minutes on Isaiah Thomas from Butler, Wade and whoever else. Brad Stevens will likely adjust by starting actions even further from the basket and forcing the Bulls to defend IT in space.
A second adjustment is that I can't imagine we'll see Robin Lopez sit for the fourth quarter like he did in Game 4. He's had a hand in the Bulls’ wins, so he has to be out there. The adjustment for the Celtics is just to keep a body, or multiple bodies, on him to keep him off the offense glass.
Jeff Nooney: If Rondo can't go, I'm interested to see if Hoiberg rolls out Denzel Valentine. None of their backup point guards really move the needle, so why not just keep the ball with Butler/Wade and let Valentine space the floor? If the Bulls play bigger lineups like this, I'm not sure Stevens needs to adjust that much. Just live with the rebounding problems and let IT cook on offense. Maybe have IT guard Valentine in this situation I just made up, if you're desperate for adjustments.
Bobby Manning: It has to be more sets with Jimmy Butler leading the point. His usage has to be massive at this point, and they found good precedence for it in how they used him in Game 4. By the time Butler was running all their sets and they found Isaiah Canaan to bury some shots off of the ball, Chicago was already buried under a 20-point deficit by Gerald Green. Also, going small wouldn't be a terrible idea either. Bobby Portis may be their most talented big in terms of overall skill set. Now that Boston has counteracted the Robin Lopez advantage, they can't keep trying to make the game slow and big-oriented.
With Smart and Green being the wildcards of Games 3 & 4, who is your candidate to come up big in Game 5?
Jeff Clark: Feels like it is time for a Kelly Olynyk game. Bonus points if it is a man-bun game. If he can stretch the floor, it only makes the rest of the offense click better. Every once in a while he surprises us with double-digit rebounds too. He's due. On the Bulls side, I bet Mirotic has a big game as well.
Bill Sy: Olynyk has been modestly good so far, but his growing confidence will pay off tonight. He'll go full bun game and put together a 15-5-5 night as the Game 5 X-factor.
Alex Kungu: Well, I would say Terry Rozier was probably the wildcard in game 3, and I think he’ll be the wildcard again in this game. Role players play better at home, and with an electric home crowd, I would love to see Rozier play with that same high-energy and think that he will
Lachlan Marr: Terry Rozier had a pretty great Game 3—not quite a breakout performance but a solid contribution from the bench for the young guard in the playoffs. Unfortunately he followed this up with a pretty poor outing in Game 4, so maybe he’ll be looking to make up for it in Game 5.
If Rozier can keep the bench scoring while Isaiah is off the floor then he will be invaluable to the Celtics for the rest of the playoffs. Game 5 could be Scary Terry’s opportunity to prove he’s the leader of the second unit and a key piece moving forward.
Meanwhile Jaylen Brown has been about as useful as Michael Carter-Williams in this series, though the Celtics' rookie has been given very limited minutes. Considering how effective it proved to use Green as a cutting combo-forward, I’m slightly surprised we haven’t seen Jaylen utilised in the same role. If the rookie is given the minutes and seizes the opportunity, he could prove to be extremely effective and have a breakout game.
Keith Smith: Jae Crowder. He's been ok in the series, but hasn't had any sort of signature moment. Crowder is a guy who feeds off emotion and the crowd. With the Boston crowd as ready as they have been all year, feels like a night when Crowder comes to play and makes some big plays.
Jeff Nooney: Jonas Jerebko has been pretty quiet this year. But I think he's got 10-15 minutes’ worth of three-pointers and goofy-looking offensive rebounds ready to go. If Jerebko gets playing time in any small lineups with Thomas, he should get plenty of open shots.
Bobby Manning: Terry Rozier! He's slowly become more and more relevant as the series has progressed. As with Gerald Green, he's been running sets as the athletic wing player for the bench. His shot doesn't splash quite like Green's, but he can hit a stand-up three and rush into the paint and grab rebounds. He's also someone I can see initiating the fast-break off those rebounds. In the same way Green has found success, I can see Rozier having a big game before this series concludes. This has become a great matchup for him.
Game 5 score prediction and why?
Jeff Clark: Why break script now? I predict a 20-point lead that gets completely wiped out in the 2nd quarter, followed by more heroics by Isaiah Thomas and a Celtics win despite being out-rebounded by 100 or so. Celtics win 111-105.
Bill Sy: Seems like 104 points is the magic number, so I'll go 104-87 Celtics in a comfortable win. They keep Butler in check, the mileage on Wade shows even more, and James Young dazzles in Gino Time. We've seen Brad Stevens grow as a playoff coach this postseason and make some unconventional moves—starting Green, going deeper into his bench rather than shortening his rotation—and it finally culminates in Boston's first wire-to-wire blowout.
Alex Kungu: Celtics 108, Bulls 85. Even with the improvements of the last two games, I don’t think we’e seen the best of the Celtics just yet. Jae Crowder and Avery Bradley specifically have been shooting way under their normal 3P% on open and wide-open shoots. I think tonight is the night that, behind that Boston crowd, guys start getting shots to fall and they go on one of those big 2nd-half runs.
Lachlan Marr: Celtics 118, Bulls 98. Because, well it’s a guess, obviously. But it's firstly based on the fact that I think the Celtics have got the Bulls' number now, but I think Chicago still has plenty of fight left in them. So far this has been a sort of 'First to 100 wins' kind of series, so if the Celtics can execute on offense I think they'll be able to run away with it down the stretch.
Keith Smith: Celtics 110, Bulls 95. The Celtics had some adversity in the first two games and predictably had some struggles. Back at home, fresh off two wins in Chicago, they aren't going to lose home-court advantage again. They'll get up big early on the strength of the defense. The Bulls will come back, because Boston never makes it truly easy, and then IT and crew will pull away in the fourth and cruise to a 3-2 series lead.
Jeff Nooney: The Bulls are a bottom-five pace team without Rondo, per NBAwowy. This series has been relatively slow paced to begin with, so I expect the Bulls to keep mucking things up. The Celtics break this weird, road-team winning trend and take it 101-94.
Bobby Manning: I hate score predictions. This will be way off, but 103-95 Celtics. There's been so many back-and-forth adjustments I think we're due for a tight game at some point. Tonight is the pivotal game. If the Bulls lose they likely have nothing left to turn to with their offense crashing in Rondo's absence. Boston's hit such a stride with their super-spread offense that I can't see them going back to a big-man game even if they get knocked off their feet tonight. At this point the Celts have maximized the biggest discrepancy in the series: shooting. That's why I can't see the Bulls winning the series.