It's Time to Give Rajon Rondo Something to Worry About

M. EccherCorrespondent IApril 29, 2009

BOSTON - APRIL 28:  Derrick Rose #1 of the Chicago Bulls weaves through Rajon Rondo #9 and Tony Allen#42 of the Boston Celtics in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2009 NBA Playoffs at TD Banknorth Garden on April 28, 2009 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Celtics defeated the Bulls 106-104 in overtime. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Rajon Rondo is hitting layups. He's hitting runners. He's hitting floaters.

Just about the only thing Boston's third-year point guard hasn't hit in the lane against Chicago in this series has been a wall.

If the Bulls hope to sneak past the Celtics and into the second round, that needs to change.

In the NBA's not-so-distant past, a player in the mold of the 6'1", 175-pound Rondo would have attacked the basket at his own risk.

Heck, even a few years ago, basketball pundits wondered whether Dwyane Wade's relentless assaults on the rim—and ensuing encounters with the hardwood—were the recipe for an abbreviated career.

TNT announcers Doug Collins and Kevin Harlan voiced that notion Tuesday as they lauded Rondo's drives to the basket as "fearless."

But the Bulls certainly haven't given him much to fear.

Derrick Rose, athletic as he may be, can't stay in front of Rondo to save his own life. Rose gets caught trailing alongside Rondo so often, you'd think the two were jogging buddies.

Joakim Noah can block shots, but he can't stay put. Neither can Tyrus Thomas, who prefers to swat at the shot once it goes up rather than stand his ground and deter the attempt in the first place.

And Brad Miller is lucky if he manages to wave goodbye as the ball-handler streaks past him.

All told, the Bulls have kept Rondo away from the rack about as well as the C's have kept Glen Davis away from the buffet line.

Moreover, Rondo is on track to shatter the record for "most layups in a series without hitting the deck." Defenders shy away from him like he's got swine flu.

Rondo reportedly picked up the nickname "Johnny" a while back—a play on his first name—but you can just call him Moses. Whenever he enters the paint, he compels the defense to part.

Admittedly, Chicago's options for slowing Rondo down aren't as potent as they might have been in years past. The "Bad Boys" Pistons would have bumped, grabbed and tripped him every step of the way.

Kevin McHale would have put him on his back. Charles Oakley would have just punched him in the face.

Rule changes and shifts in officiating have taken those tools off the table—it's hard to shoot a dirty look at a perimeter player these days without drawing a whistle.

But the least the Bulls can do is make Rondo, a 64 percent free-throw shooter this season, earn a bigger slice of his scoring at the foul line. Rondo has hit 30-of-46 layup attempts in the series, while absorbing just 16 shooting fouls.

That simply won't do.

Chicago doesn't need to administer a '90s-style mugging to make its point. A well-placed hard foul or two a game would go a long way toward making Rondo think twice about taking the ball to the hole.

The Bulls shouldn't be calling for a flagrant foul for Rondo's Game Five overtime hit on Miller—they should be getting ready to return the favor.

And if the current frontcourt rotation isn't up to the task, well, Aaron Gray has to be good for something, doesn't he?

Chicago isn't going to master the positioning and rotation it takes to seal off the lane in the next few days. But it doesn't take a defensive wizard to figure out how to send a guy sprawling once in a while.

If the Bulls want to knock off the defending champs in this series, they're going to need to knock Rondo down.

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