The Los Angeles Lakers are in for a battle against the Houston Rockets in the second round of the 2020 NBA playoffs.
It has been back and forth basketball between two tough and gritty teams. All three games have been tight with players on both ends stepping up.
For the Lakers, the usual suspects have been outstanding: LeBron James and Anthony Davis. For the Rockets, the familiar shooters have been impeccable: James Harden, Eric Gordon, and even P.J. Tucker.
One man, in particular, has stepped up more than anyone could have imagined. After nearly 200 days off, Rajon Rondo has come back and man, has he had an impact.
Playoff Rondo has been excellent, productive, and dare I say consistent?
In three games, Rondo’s direct involvement with handling the Lakers offense has been a huge key to their wins. At times, it seemed as if he has not skipped a beat.
During Game 1, Rondo made some careless plays and looked extremely rusty. He was -10 on the floor, had the most turnovers on the Lakers, and shot 33.3 percent from the field. When Rondo was inserted to begin the fourth quarter, the Lakers were down four points and a couple of minutes later, the Rockets extended its lead to 23.
Regardless, the Lakers played with a certain energy and charisma with Rondo on the court. He was back setting up teammates for open looks and leading the open cutter to the basket. It was a solid performance from a man who played his first meaningful game in almost six months.
Game 2 was when Playoff Rondo emerged and he was fantastic.
Rondo skipped through the Rockets dropping dimes, crept behind players and snatched the ball out of their hands for five steals, and even hit one of the most important shots of the game when he drained a mid-range bucket with 1:22 left sealing the team’s win.
It was prime Rondo — being a pest defensively and setting up teammates for easy buckets. He even picked James Harden’s pocket as Harden dribbled up the court leading to a layup. How many guards are able to do that?
In Game 3, Playoff Rondo proved his previous performance was far from a fluke. He was back and ready to cause havoc.
With the Lakers tied with the Rockets entering the fourth quarter, they needed some more firepower. Rondo dropped 12 in the quarter to extend the lead and seal the victory. He splashed important threes, threw lobs to Anthony Davis, and scooped layups over defenders on his way to 21 points on 8-of-11 shooting and added eight assists.
Rondo made some of the biggest plays of the game for the Lakers resulting in another stellar performance from the 34-year-old guard and a 2-1 lead in the series.
The impact Rondo has on this Lakers team cannot be seen on the stat sheet. His presence on the court is radiant. He dictates the entire pace of the game, controlling the movement of players on the court like a puppet master. He has a unique combination of coach-like IQ with effective on-court productivity.
Rondo is crucial if the Lakers are destined for a deep playoff run. He will make the right play when the lights are the brightest and oozes in confidence.
Like head coach Frank Vogel said after a Lakers game last November, Rondo brings a certain swag with his game and boosts the certainty of players when they have him on the court.
The playoff experience and basketball IQ Rondo brings to the table is also why he has been so impactful. There have been many stories of him calling out plays of opposing teams right before they happen or even stepping where a player usually does which leads to a travel.
His most important trait, however, is his playmaking skills. Rondo allows Vogel to run lineups without James, who trusts Rondo with directing the team even when he is in and with the offense being run properly.
The ball is perfectly placed in the pocket of shooters. The ball is perfectly placed on the fingertips of centers on a lob. The ball is perfectly placed on a bounce pass to cutters for the slam.
The outcome of all these plays: buckets.
Rondo is not the best shooter on the floor or the most athletic, but his smarts and awareness as a basketball player make him one of the most important on the floor and one of the main keys for the Lakers to secure the championship.