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."