The numbers were not overwhelming in Game 1. Lakers point guard Rajon Rondo played 21 minutes, scored seven points on 3-for-7 shooting, recorded two steals and, most significantly, registered nine assists without a turnover. He was a plus-13 for the game, a runaway win for the Lakers to start the NBA’s Western Conference finals.
But to hear Lakers coach Frank Vogel tell it, the team gets a lot more than numbers out of Rondo.
“His impact is always measured in swag with our team,” Vogel said. He elevates the group’s confidence, every time he is on the floor.”
After a so-so regular season and a combination of wrist and back injuries that kept him out until the middle of the opening-round playoff series against Portland, Rondo has looked a lot more like himself lately. He is averaging 10.4 points, 8.0 assists and 4.2 rebounds in the Lakers’ last five games, shooting 53.8% from the field and 50.0% from the 3-point line.
Among the most impressive points Rondo has scored came from this behind-the-backboard shot late in the Denver win—a shot that was oozing with swag.
“I haven’t practiced it in probably about 12 years,” Rondo said. “I got lucky tonight. My main objective was to get the ball above the backboard, give it the arc and give it a chance to go in.”
Rajon Rondo Passes Michael Jordan on All-Time Playoff Assist List
Rondo did reach a milestone in Game 1 as well. With his seventh assist, he reached 1,023 assists in the postseason, moving him into 10th in the NBA, all-time, past Michael Jordan. Rondo, now in his 14th season, reflected on that, crediting the long list of great teammates he’s had, from Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen in Boston to Anthony Davis and LeBron James now in Los Angeles.
Rajon Rondo passed Michael Jordan for 10th on the all-time list for career postseason assists. pic.twitter.com/K4H4As61kK
— ESPN (@espn) September 19, 2020
“It just means I played with a lot of great players,” Rondo said. “I can’t take a lot of the credit, even though my job is to get those guys the ball, at the end of the day, you don’t get an assist unless those guys put it in the basket. I’ve been in the game a long time, I played with a lot of great players. Those guys have made me look pretty good.”
He has tried to learn a bit from each one, too.
“I try to take little notes from all the great players I played with in the past, so many great vets, and add it to my game and think that’s why I have been able to last so long, 14th season,” Rondo said.
During Playoffs, Rondo Has Battled Back Spasm
Still, there is an overarching concern with the back spasms Rondo, who is 34, has been having during his time in the NBA’s bubble environment in Orlando. It was back spasms that kept him from coming back at the start of the playoffs and, heading into the Denver series, Rondo was listed as questionable with back concerns.
Vogel addressed that ahead of Game 1 when he confirmed that Rondo would play.
“No firm minutes restriction, other than, let’s be smart with a guy that, if we overdo it, his back has flared up a couple of times in these playoffs,” Vogel said. “So he’s available, like I said, just be smart with his minutes.”
Lakers coach Frank Vogel said Rajon Rondo will be available for Game 1 vs Denver. No minutes restriction, but Vogel said we'll "just be smart with his minutes."
— Mark Medina (@MarkG_Medina) September 18, 2020
Still, there is no doubt that Vogel and the Lakers need Rondo on the floor with the second unit, even if they need to be careful with his minutes.
“His ability to compete on the defensive end, to bark out coverages and quarterback that end, energizes our group,” Vogel said after Game 1. “His voice is energy. And then offensively, his ability to orchestrate and quarterback the offense just settles everybody down. He is able to create good looks for those around him and the group usually succeeds when he is out there. Just another stellar Rondo performance for us.”