With a little more than a minute to go in the Lakers’ Game 2 win in the conference semifinals of the NBA playoffs against the Rockets, things were looking shaky for L.A. After rebuilding a double-digit lead that they had blown in the third quarter, Houston was within 6 points, an easily erasable deficit for a team anchored by offensive dynamo James Harden.
But the ball wound up with one of the least-potent offensive players in the game—point guard Rajon Rondo, playing just his second game since March. And Rondo knocked down a 22-footer from the right wing, giving the Lakers an 8-point lead and stretching Houston’s defeicit to three possessions.
This was the Playoff Rondo whom Lakers fans had been hearing about, the one who did not show himself much over the course of a so-so regular season. But in Sunday’s win, Rondo was sharp throughout and a difference-maker whenever he was on the floor.
Rondo finished with 10 points, 8 assists, 5 rebounds and 5 steals in 28 minutes off the bench. He was a plus-28 in point differential when he was on the floor, by far the biggest differential among the Lakers in the game—James and forward Markieff Morris were plus-15.
Lakers’ Coach Defended Rajon Rondo After Game 1
Rondo’s performance came after he struggled in Game 1 of the series against Houston, scoring 8 points with 4 assists and 3 rebounds. He was forced into 4 turnovers and was a minus-10 in point differential in the game. He played 24 minutes and was 3-for-9 shooting.
Lakers coach Frank Vogel took some criticism from NBA observers for his willingness to throw Rondo into the fire, though Rondo missed all of the Lakers’ eight seeding games and the opening round of the playoffs, first after having surgery to fix a broken bone in his hand and then because of a back injury.
Vogel, though, stuck by Rondo on Saturday after the Lakers practiced.
“Rajon is one of the smartest players in the league, and obviously our guys’ IQ raises when he’s on the court, so he’s definitely going to help us this series,” Vogel said.
Rajon Rondo Transforms Into ‘Playoff Rondo’ in the Postseason
Rondo is one of the few players in the league with significant postseason experience—Sunday’s game against Houston was the 107th playoff game of his career—whose production goes up in the playoffs, when the action gets more physical and points are harder to come by.
Over the years, the notion of, “Playoff Rondo,” has been a theme with Rondo’s teams. He has a history of upping his game during the playoffs—he averages 14.3 points, 9.3 assists, and 6.1 rebounds in the postseason, up from 10.2 points, 8.3 assists, and 4.7 rebounds in the regular season.
Lakers star Anthony Davis played with Rondo in New Orleans, and Rondo was instrumental to pushing the Pelicans to a sweep of the Trail Blazers in 2018. They lost to the eventual-champion Warriors in the second round.
Like Vogel, Davis predicted a quick turnaround from Game 1 for Rondo.
“He’s a great player and a very cerebral player, so he knows the game very well,” Davis said, according to ESPN. “I don’t think it’ll take that much time to get him back acclimated with the team. He made some shots today, made some good plays for us.
“Game conditioning is tough and when you haven’t played, and then your first game is in the Western semis. We’ll get him back acclimated with the team and just try to play from there.”