"Playoff Rondo" had become a bit of a running joke following Rajon Rondo's prime years with the Celtics, particularly following his ugly divorce with the Mavericks. But after the Pelicans' surprising sweep of the Trail Blazers in the first round of the NBA playoffs, fans and analysts alike can't deny one simple fact.
Not only is "Playoff Rondo" real - he is a lot of fun to watch.
With all of the warranted praise sent in the direction of Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday, it's easy to forget just how masterful Rondo was in the first round. The veteran point guard tallied at least nine assists in each of New Orleans' four wins and joined Holiday in harassing Portland's backcourt of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum throughout the series.
Everyone is now talking about the return of "Playoff Rondo," but why are we so surprised when he arrives? He has always proven that he can take his game to another level come playoff time. The numbers make the case.
|Rondo Career Stats||PPG||RPG||APG||SPG||FG %||3PT %|
|First round vs. Blazers||11.3||7.5||13.3||0.8||48.7||42.9|
While playing for the Bulls during last year's first-round matchup against the Celtics, "Playoff Rondo" reappeared after a brief hiatus. He reminded us of his ability to take his game to another level come playoff time. Against the top-seeded Celtics, Rondo and the Bulls took a 2-0 lead in a series that was widely expected to be over quickly.
Rondo came out with vengeance against his former team, averaging 11.5 points, 10.0 assists, 8.5 rebounds and 3.5 steals in the first two games of the series before a thumb injury ended his season. The Bulls would go on to lose the next four games without him. It was a series that Rondo felt the Bulls would have swept if he had been heathy.
We had the privilege of getting "Playoff Rondo" many times during his years in Boston. He became a certifiable folk hero in the 2011 playoffs when he returned to the floor after a stomach-churning dislocation of his elbow. After having his elbow popped back into place, Rondo led the Celtics to a Game 3 victory over the Heat - and did so basically one-handed.
How is it that the best Rondo comes out when the lights shine brightest? Part of the reason could be the playoff format. Rondo is famously obsessed with watching film. In fact, Davis made mention of Rondo staying up the entire night before Game 1 to watch film on the Trail Blazers.
Rajon Rondo, explaining his philosophy, one every point guard on every level of basketball can use: "I'm a big believer in the entire team watching film, because you're able to appreciate what your teammates do and what they do best, so you're able to play to their strengths."- Jim Eichenhofer (@Jim_Eichenhofer) April 22, 2018
Rondo, as a basketball mathematician, is able to dissect angles that most cannot even see. Through his near maniacal film study, he is able to figure out what his opponents want to do when they have the ball and what his team needs to do in order to take advantage on a possession-by-possession basis. When only having to focus on one team (as is the case in the playoffs), it seems that his habits give him a big advantage.
While that drive has hurt some of his previous relationships with coaches and teammates throughout his career, it's difficult to come to any other conclusion than Rondo is a basketball genius. He controls the pace of the offense on every possession. He understands when the ball needs to be pushed and when it needs to be slowed down. His court vision is unmatched. He is playing chess while everyone else is playing checkers - or perhaps it's more appropriate to say Connect Four.
He also seems to understand that he does, at times, need to have a more aggressive mentality in the playoffs. He becomes an opportunistic scorer and a clutch shooter.
PLAYOFF RONDO.- Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) April 18, 2018
Rondo has, to put it mildly, had an interesting NBA career. He has won a championship as part of one of the most beloved teams in recent NBA history, rubbed people the wrong way at multiple stops and faded away from the spotlight only to return as soon as we think he's gone.
But no one can question the competitive spirit of Rondo. Come playoff time, he flips the switch - and we're all just here for the show.