With both series tied at two a piece and sustaining two vital injuries, the Bulls and Clippers are on their heels. The teams are similar in that they are predominantly led by veteran players, but only the Clippers have expectations. LA had the weight of their continued playoff failure. Then combined with the weight of the expiring contracts of Blake Griffin and Chris Paul, Doc Rivers has a lot on his plate. Now with Griffin out for the Playoffs with a foot injury, the Clippers playoffs are in doubt. Going up 2-1 with and without Griffin, the Jazz has tied it up. Going into game five, the Clippers will need to get every ounce of game Paul has left to close out this series. Without an all-star level performance from Paul, the Clips will find themselves as one the most disappointing teams of the last decade.
Although, with the return of the prodigal son, Austin Rivers, the Clippers will be getting much-needed size and depth on the perimeter. An underrated defender, Rivers brings an added dimension to the Clippers game. Not to mention, his versatility helps Paul on both ends of the court. Paul, who is currently leading the team in points, will need the team to step up in Griffins’ absence. With other vets, J.J Redick and Jamal Crawford taking a step back, they will need more from their role players. The Clips will likely need at least one Raymond Felton firestorm to seal one of these games. Although, can the Clips escape the grasp of Joe Johnson? The fate of the Clippers season could be left in the balance by Joe Ingles, who the Clippers cut in 2014.
As for the Windy City, Chicago came into this season shrouded in curiosity with their offseason signings.
Rajon Rondo and Dwayne Wade signed on to be part of this throwback Bulls team. With Jimmy Butler at the helm and Rondo acting as an on-court coach, the team found its way late. The Bulls looked unstoppable against a Celtics team with no answers. That was of course until Rondo fractured his thumb. Since then, the Bulls have squandered their two-game lead and at times looked like a shell of themselves in the process. With Michael Carter-Williams and Jerian Grant having to play significant minutes, they have lost every advantage Rondo gave them. Without any notable shooting threats other than Butler and sometimes Isaiah Cannon and occasionally (not yet in these playoffs) Nikola Miritic, it’s hard to imagine a Bulls victory.
With no shooting and no real point guard, there aren’t many alternative line-ups for the Bulls to trot out there.
Bobby Portis showed flashes early in this series but have fallen off a cliff offensively these past three games. Robin Lopez can pick apart Boston, but without Rondo, there’s no one to give the big man the ball when he needs it. Moreover, with Boston playing small now, the Bulls need Rondo’s intelligence and his playmaking if they’re to have a chance. That being said, there is no clear indication that Rondo won’t be back before the end of this series. As it stands, Rondo had his cast removed so he could prepare to play before game five. Not surprising as he once played a game on a torn ACL when he played for Boston. Seeing how the Jazz’s Rudy Gobert came back from a knee injury after only three games, don’t be shocked if Rondo makes an appearance in games six or seven.