Who knew Rajon Rondo was the secret to the universe?

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With a cast on his right thumb, Rajon Rondo (center) sits on the bench during the Bulls’ 104-87 loss to the Celtics in Game 3 Friday night. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Point guard.

Scorer, rebounder, passer, leader of men.

Bowl-stacking, teacup-flipping halftime entertainer.

The reason for Jimmy Butler’s success.

I did not know Rajon Rondo was so valuable. I see my ignorance clearly now, to the point where I understand that limiting him to something as inconsequential as basketball is a waste.

National intelligence chief?

CEO of a Fortune 500 company?

President of the United States?

Pope Rajon I?

All of it apparently a possibility now.

If you watched the Bulls’ brutal Game 3 loss to the Boston Celtics on Friday night, and my condolences if you did, then you know they’re a wreck without Rondo. How this came to be is one of life’s great mysteries, along with the Kardashians, Adam Sandler and male nipples.

Rondo might be done for this first-round series after fracturing his thumb in Game 2. We spent much of the season ignoring him because Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg ignored him all the way to the bench. Then the playoffs rolled around, and suddenly Rajon was not just needed, but indispensable. And perhaps not just indispensable, but the Bulls’ very reason for living.

Who knew?

The Bulls went up 2-0 in the series, thanks in large part to Rondo’s excellence in those two road victories. There were several possible reasons for his re-emergence from wherever the Bulls had hidden him:

A. He actually is a good player.

B. The Celtics are a sorry excuse for a No. 1 seed.

C. Your guess is as good as mine.

How are the Bulls different with Rondo in the lineup?

“Just having another coach on the floor,” veteran Dwyane Wade said after the Bulls’ 104-87 loss. “You’ve got a guy who’s been in so many playoff series, been in the Finals, won a championship. You can’t replace that.”

But that’s exactly what Hoiberg did with Rondo during the regular season. He replaced him. Surely, the ridiculousness of this situation is not lost on you. A team that was painfully inconsistent in the regular season suddenly finds consistency with a point guard who was benched in January and who took to Instagram to criticize Wade and Butler for criticizing rookies. And now the Bulls can’t live without him? If you say so.

Rondo is a fine player. But — and how do I put this? — come on! The Bulls looked lost without him for large stretches of Friday night’s game. They ignored him for large stretches of the season. Maybe this is some sort of karmic payback.

The dropoff from Rondo to Jerian Grant and Michael Carter-Williams is about 22 stories.

Lots of Bulls fans are caught up in the drama of this series. That’s what we do in sports. The excitement of the moment takes over, especially in the playoffs, and aesthetics don’t matter as much as they normally would. That’s a really nice way of saying these are two mediocre teams. If I said both squads were playing their hearts out, would that make it nicer? I didn’t think so.

Boy, oh, boy, was Friday night’s game ugly. Butler was 1-for-12 from the field before hitting three straight shots late in the third quarter. He finished 7-for-21. Maybe Rondo can do a faith healing on Butler’s shooting hand.

The Bulls’ defense was horrible. The Celtics hit 45.9 percent of their three-point attempts. It’s hard to see how Rondo could have dramatically changed that, but, again, we now know he’s a miracle man.

There are at least six teams in the West that would eat the Bulls for dinner and then use Cameron Payne for floss. That’s not breaking news, but it is a reminder of just how far the Bulls are from mattering. The playoff structure has a way of masking reality a bit. If you’re in, you have a chance. At least that’s the conceit. And that’s why the United Center sounded like a jet engine at times Friday. It didn’t matter that the basketball was awful. It mattered that the Bulls drew somewhat close a few times.

I’m not saying they are out of this series. That would be silly. But to think they had suddenly learned how to play better after a 41-41 regular season was even sillier. The Bulls haven’t morphed into a good team. They have run into a No. 1 seed in name and number only.

Game 4 is Sunday at the United Center. Can Rondo heal himself? Well, if anyone can . . .

Follow me on Twitter @MorrisseyCST.

Email: rmorrissey@suntimes.com


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