Some NBA players are just meant to play in the postseason. Rajon Rondo is one of them. Earning the nickname “Playoff Rondo,” he seems to elevate his game in the postseason, creating opportunities for his teammates and playing with added intensity. Now with the Lakers, he’s lit it up as LA goes deeper into the playoffs.
The emergence of “Playoff Rondo”
Rondo began his career with the Celtics and quickly made his way into the starting lineup. As Boston moved deeper into the 2008 playoffs, Rondo helped lead the way.
In the NBA finals, facing the Lakers, Rondo had two performances that paved the way for “Playoff Rondo.” He had a career-high 16 assists in Game 2 followed by a career-high six steals in Game 6. The Celtics won the championship that year, and Rondo was a huge part of their playoff success.
Over the next few years, Rondo’s contributions in the playoffs were off the charts. He consistently had 10 assist games, logged multiple triple-doubles, and played intense defense that regularly resulted in turnovers. In 2014, he was traded to the Dallas Mavericks, which began a series of team-hopping.
Rajon Rondo as a Laker
In 2018, Rondo signed with the Lakers. His acquisition was a continuation of Magic Johnson’s philosophy — to get tough guys on the court. Those guys win championships. Johnson spoke about his system to CBS Sports, referencing the 2018 Houston Rockets:
“They had some shooters, but they had a lot of guys who can handle the basketball, and break the defenses down, and create their own shot. And then, Houston had tough guys. Boston had tough guys. So what did I bring in? Tough guys. So that’s how I’m building it. I took a lot from watching Boston play, watching Houston play, then advancing, and they beat all the teams that had all the great shooters.”
Johnson’s philosophy was a far cry from the current state of the NBA. But adding Rondo as a ball-handler made for a quicker pace that could open the court up and bring opportunities to the team, exactly what Magic sought. With “Playoff Rondo” back in the postseason with the Lakers, his confidence on the court elevates the team and has dire consequences for opponents.
Rondo in the playoffs
In July, the Lakers announced that Rondo fractured his thumb and would miss six to eight weeks. His absence resulted in a loss of ball-handling skills, but the Lakers still advanced to the playoffs. Rondo rejoined the team in the first game of the Western Conference semifinals. His performance against the Nuggets was a key component to their Game 2 win.
Rondo dished out nine assists and set up the game-winning shot. He’s also contributed on defense, providing a spark the Lakers need. LeBron James told ESPN, “He comes in, he pushes the tempo, he gets guys involved and that doesn’t always show up in the stat sheet. The intangibles that he does both offensively and defensively — his nose is always around the ball and he just makes plays for us, and tonight was another example of that.”
Sounds like Rondo has made himself at home as a member of the Lakers. If history is to repeat itself, “Playoff Rondo” will be a major contributing factor to the Lakers’ future success.