The Los Angeles Lakers are now just two wins away from capturing the franchise’s 17th NBA championship, which would tie them with their bitter rivals: the Boston Celtics. Considering how banged up the Miami Heat are, this title is now the Lakers’ to lose.
Fortunately, the Lake Show is, as LeBron James famously put it, “built different.” Alongside James and his co-superstar big man, Anthony Davis, is a supporting cast that has bought in to their roles and playing their part to a tee every single contest.
Veteran floor general Rajon Rondo is among that collection of role players, a no-nonsense point guard blessed with all the tools you need in the position. He didn’t earn his long-time nickname, ‘Playoff Rondo,’ for nothing. From his days with the Celtics, Chicago Bulls, and New Orleans Pelicans, that precious moniker has deservingly followed his play and persona.
Rondo, together with James and JaVale McGee, among others, was part of the Lakers’ new look entering the 2018-19 season, but with a string of injuries in the roster, the team failed to make the postseason. It was a disappointing campaign but they are making up for it with this season’s great run.
Let’s recap Playoff Rondo:
The 34-year-old missed time in the restart due to a thumb injury during the three-week training camp. It required surgery and caused him to be sidelined until the second round of the playoffs. Thankfully for the Lakers, though, it was just in time.
Here’s how much the Lakers trust their veteran point guard: Rondo made his restart debut in Game 1 of their Western Conference Semifinals series with the Rockets. They lost, 112-97, and Rondo played terribly in 20 minutes and deservingly had a -10 plus-minus.
With fans and analysts scrutinizing the immediately heavy minutes, the Lakers stood up for their guy, with Davis saying having Rondo on the floor is “beneficial” as it gives James a break from being a facilitator, and head coach Frank Vogel claiming it won’t “take that much time [for Rondo to be] acclimated with the team.”
Davis and Vogel were right. From that point on, ‘Playoff Rondo’ got activated and became instrumental to the Lakers’ 10-1 stretch since. They backdoor swept the Rockets, 4-1, with Rondo averaging 11.3 points, 7.8 assists, and 2.0 steals per game on 56.3% shooting (27.3 MPG) in the four consecutive victories. He also frustrated the heck out of his Houston counterpart, Russell Westbrook.
Here’s Davis raving about Rajon:
“I experienced it firsthand. It’s real. Playoff Rondo is real. The intensity picks up … his IQ is on another level.”
While it reverted back into a more subtle support role in the Denver Nuggets series, he was still quite influential overall. He had 7.6 points and 7.4 assists on only 21.4 minutes of play in the five games, which equates to a whopping 48.9 assist percentage – for context, only four players reached 40% or higher in the regular season.
In the Lakers’ 124-114 victory in Game 2, Rondo’s scoring and facilitating hat were both on as he tallied 16 points and 10 assists, which includes going 3-for-4 from beyond the arc.
Here’s one quick final stat to further illustrate how real and consistent ‘Playoff Rondo’ is. Mind you, he’s 34 years old and had endured several injuries, some even season-ending.
His per 36 averages of 13.3 points, 5.6 rebounds, 10.3 assists, and 2.2 steals per game in this postseason, is actually better than his per 36 playoff numbers during absolute prime (2009-2012).