CHICAGO (AP) Rolling along with a humming offense not too long ago, the Chicago Bulls will now try to regroup.
And they’ll do it with a seldom-used point guard making a crucial start.
The Bulls will go with Isaiah Canaan in Game 5 of their first-round series against the Celtics in Boston on Wednesday, hoping he can stabilize an offense struggling without the injured Rajon Rondo.
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More important, they will try to regain the lead in a series after back-to-back home losses.
”I really thought he did a good job picking up the ball and pressuring the pickup point a full 94 feet,” coach Fred Hoiberg said Monday.
”I thought his initial ball pressure was good. We have to get off to a much better start if we want to have any chance of winning another game in this series.”
The eighth-seeded Bulls looked as if they were positioning themselves to knock off the top-seeded Celtics after taking the first two games in Boston.
But they haven’t been the same with Rondo missing the past two because of a broken right thumb.
The cast he had on his sprained right wrist was off on Monday, though he still had a splint for the thumb and wrist. Hoiberg would not rule him out for the rest of the series.
Rondo’s injury seems to have exposed a lack of depth at a key position. Things got so bad in Game 4 on Sunday that the Bulls actually had to turn to Canaan in the first quarter.
He played reasonably well with 13 points in 34 minutes in his first appearance since April 10 and tried his best to contain Isaiah Thomas. But it was jarring to see him in such a big spot.
Hoiberg yanked struggling starter Jerian Grant after about five minutes and never went back to him.
Backup Michael Carter-Williams then picked up two quick fouls and only made a cameo after that in the third, when Thomas led the Celtics on the go-ahead run. The Bulls had Cameron Payne inactive and opted not to go with first-round draft pick Denzel Valentine.
That meant prime playing time for Canaan. He came in late in the first quarter after Carter-Williams got into foul trouble and got more minutes than anyone had reason to anticipate.
”It felt good to be out there to battle with my teammates,” he said. ”I just want to go out there, just give energy, just try to make my opponent as miserable as possible. The opportunity came and I just wanted to take full advantage of it.”
That Canaan played such a big role was surprising considering he averaged just 15.2 minutes in the 39 regular-season games he played.
Yet here he is with a big role and a huge assignment, going against one of the league’s best point guards in a high-pressure situation.
”Throughout the season, you just wonder when that opportunity is gonna come,” he said. ”I believe everything happens for a reason, and you never foresee what it may be.”
The Bulls have hit on backup point guards in the past. Nate Robinson, D.J. Augustin and John Lucas III all came through in big spots in recent years.
The Bulls were hoping Grant and Carter-Williams would do the same. Maybe Canaan will be the guy, instead.
If nothing else, the Bulls are clearly missing Rondo at the moment. And that would have been hard to envision at times during the regular season.
After all, the four-time All-Star and 2008 NBA champion was in and out of the starting lineup. He got benched for five games at one point. He was also suspended a game by the Bulls and found himself at the center of their biggest controversy this season.
That happened when he fired back at Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade for criticizing the team while defending the younger players.
Despite all that, Rondo played well down the stretch in the regular season. And he was particularly good as the Bulls took the first two playoff games on the road.
”This is a good team we’re playing,” Wade said. ”It’s a chess match, we have to figure out the game within a game, how to beat them. It’s the next one.
”So we’re focused on Game 5. We got two days to prepare. Today was a good day mentally. Tomorrow will be mental and physical. Then we go up there late Wednesday night, late night and try to come out with a win.”