There’s no Lakers’ player more controversial or polarizing to the team’s fans and pundits than 34-year old point guard Rajon Rondo and no basketball urban myth more chimerical and illusive than the legend of Playoff Rondo.
Yet that’s exactly what we just witnessed as Playoff Rondo posted 10 points, 9 assists, 5 steals, and 3 rebounds with just 1 turnover to help the Lakers beat the Rockets 117–109 in just his second game in the Bubble Playoffs. Considering Rajon had missed the Lakers’ eight regular season seeding games and five first round playoff games due to thumb and back injuries, watching him come out and rock Playoff Rondo was totally unexpected.
On the other hand, maybe we should have had faith in legend of Playoff Rondo. After all, the last time he had a chance to play in the NBA playoffs was in 2018 when he led the underdog Pelicans to a sweep of the Blazers. Rondo averaged 11.3 points, 13.3 assists, and 7.5 rebounds in 35.4 minutes while shooting 48.7% from the field, 42.9% from deep, and 80.0% from the line and posting an impressive plus/minus of 10.5 and net rating of 13.7.
Playoff Rondo’s performance against the Blazers in 2018 was not just an isolated performance as Rajon’s career playoff stats have always outpaced his regular season stars, confirming he plays best in the heat of the playoffs.
Rondo’s career regular season averages are 10.2 points, 8.3 assists, 4.7 rebounds, and 1.7 steals in 31.0 minutes while his career playoff stats are 13.9 points, 9.3 assists, 6.0 rebounds, and 1.9 steals in 37.4 minutes.
But the legend of Playoff Rondo is more than a statistical aberration. It has to do with the swag and confidence he inspires when he’s on the court and the way he efficiently runs the offense and smoothly distributes the ball. While hypercritical fans and pundits may bemoan his stats and analytics, Rajon has earned the full trust and complete confidence of Lakers’ head coach Frank Vogel and superstar duo LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
The Lakers won last night’s pivotal game against the Rocket largely because Playoff Rondo showed up. His +28 plus/minus and +46.7 net rating not only led the Lakers but he was part of the team’s four best 5-player lineups. While the Rockets are likely to continue disrespecting his gravity behind the 3-point line, there’s little question Playoff Rondo is a huge difference maker on the floor with LeBron James or when the King is resting on the bench.
JaVale McGee’s unfortunate injury and the way the Lakers played when going small with Rondo in the lineup may have opened the door to Vogel finally making a change in the Lakers’ starting lineup for Tuesday’s game. Frank has been reluctant to change his starting lineup but JaVale’s injury and Rajon’s play may have given him the opportunity to make a change that could empower the Laker by starting Playoff Rondo at point guard.
One thing Vogel cannot discount is how Rondo takes pressure off of LeBron James to be both a primary scorer and playmaker for the Lakers. Rondo running the offense unleashes LeBron to be in full-time attack mode.
And that’s exactly what the Lakers need to get past the Houston Rockets.