Rajon Rondo isn’t fond of his well-known ‘Playoff Rondo’ nickname, and I don’t blame him. It probably feels like it’s a nice way of saying he’s non-existent in the regular season. Of course, it’s not the worst thing in the world since it’s great if you play well when it matters most.
Unfortunately for him, though, it won’t be pushed aside anytime soon – not with him raising his game for every time he’s in the postseason. Also, whether he likes it or not, it’s that reputation that made the LA Clippers acquire his services.
Mind you, the Clippers traded Lou Williams away in exchange, who’s one of the fans and franchise’s beloved players. Williams, as you may remember, was the leading scorer of that feisty 2018-19 Clipper team that shockingly made the playoffs and gave the dynastic Golden State Warriors a solid challenge.
Let’s quickly rewind why the Clipps need a Rajon Rondo.
With two-way All-Stars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George on deck, the Clippers are one of the elite teams in the league. They are, however, still trying to wash away the stink of their playoff collapse last season, where they blew a 3-1 lead against the Denver Nuggets in the Conference Semifinals. It wasn’t a sudden turn of events too, since they also squandered a double-digit lead in Games 5, 6, and 7.
The off-season didn’t help as the Clippers parted ways with their highly-respected head coach Doc Rivers and reigning Sixth Man of the Year Montrezl Harrell, who then unexpectedly signed with the defending champion and hometown rival Los Angeles Lakers.
While the Clippers went on to be competitive in the season, as evident in still firmly holding on to a top three spot in the West standings, it’s also clear that the point guard slot is a glaring hole. Patrick Beverley can be a game manager but he is not a floor general, and he’s mostly there to be a pest. Leonard and George can facilitate but they can’t spend much time doing so since they are also burdened by many other things, namely scoring and defending. Other than those three, there’s no one who can be truly reliable.
Rondo is the best option for the Clippers. He’s a savvy veteran that can balance leading the passing game without taking touches away from Leonard and George. Once can argue that he’s not exactly the Rondo of old, that he has lost a step, which can be risky overall. That’s fair, but you just can’t pass up having the chance to get boosted by his Playoff Rondo mode.
Here are some of Playoff Rondo’s best hits:
2012 Playoffs (with the Boston Celtics) – With the Celtics looking old and Ray Allen particularly struggling (10.7 PPG, 39.5 FG%), Rondo averaged 17.3 points, 11.9 assists, and 2.4 steals per game in the playoff run. Among the individual highlights was when he went toe-to-toe against the Miami Heat’s Big Three in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals, where he scored 44 points on 16-for-24 shooting.
2017 Playoffs (with the Chicago Bulls) – He co-led the Chicago Bulls to a subpar eighth seed in the East, alongside Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade. Because ‘Playoff Rondo’ showed up, though, the underdog Bulls suddenly jumped into a 2-0 lead against the first-seeded Celtics, with Rondo averaging 13.5 points, 10 assists, and 3.5 assists. Unfortunately, he injured his hand prior to Game 3 and was sidelined for the rest of the postseason, which then proved his worth even more as the Bulls proceeded to lose four straight games.
2018 Playoffs (with the New Orleans Pelicans) – This Pelicans squad had monster big man Anthony Davis, but it was an upstart team more than anything… until the playoffs. Davis handled the paint while ‘Playoff Rondo’ followed suit and averaged 11.3 points and 13.3 assists in their sudden first-round sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers. In the next round, they took one game from the unbeatable Warriors before bowing out.
2020 Playoffs (with the Los Angeles lakers) – Rondo was hobbled for much of the 2020 season, which included the playoffs. It prevented him to post big-time numbers in the postseason but his presence was very much felt. He managed to sputter key outings as well – Game 3 against the Houston Rockets (21 pts, 9 ast) and Game 2 against the Miami Heat (16 pts, 10 ast).
As it turns out, he was saving his best for the last as he scored 19 points and four assists in the championship-clinching Game 6 against the Heat. He started the game shooting a perfect 7-for-7.
‘Playoff Rondo’ is real, folks. It may not wow you like before, but it can be quite effective at the best possible time. Watch out, NBA.
The Clippers will be back in action Tuesday against the visiting Detroit Pistons. They’ll meet at 10 AM, Manila time.