Anthony Davis deserves all of the praise he’s received for his game-winner against the Denver Nuggets in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals on Sunday — a shot that gave the Lakers a 2-0 lead in a series that should probably be tied.
However, there’s one player outside of Davis that deserves as much credit for his exhilarating game-winning 3-point shot, and it’s not Mason Plumlee: it’s Rajon Rondo.
Rondo was on the bench for the Lakers’ first two attempts at a go-ahead basket: a 3-point attempt from Alex Caruso that hit the front of the rim and a long 2-point jump shot from Danny Green that was blocked out of bounds by Jamal Murray.
Frank Vogel couldn’t call a timeout because he had already used them all, but he was able to make a substitution, and Rondo made it clear to Vogel that he wanted to be part of what was likely going to be the final possession with two seconds left on the game clock.
“Rondo came up and whispered in my ear about whether I want him in there as a passer, and obviously I said ‘heck yes,’” Vogel said after Sunday’s game.
Because the Lakers were out of timeouts, Vogel wasn’t able to draw up a play for the crucial, game-deciding shot. His players were on their own. They weren’t scared of the moment, though, because they knew how much they’d prepared for it, or at least a moment like it.
“That’s what this floor right here that we’re on right now is all about: the practices, the shootarounds,” LeBron James said. “We talk about every single scenario possible. Up three, down three. Up two, down two. Do we have a foul to give, do we not? Do we have a timeout, do we not? Are going full-court, half-court? ... you talk about all of those things.
“If you want to be a championship ball club, you have to be able to do that on the fly. So knowing that we didn’t have a timeout, we were able to get into a situation, to a set, that we worked on in practice and get right to it.”
That doesn’t mean things went exactly the way they wanted it to, though — at least initially. The Nuggets did a good job of denying the Lakers their first three options: a backdoor cut to Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, a backdoor cut to Danny Green and a LeBron James isolation in the midpost.
The last option the Lakers had was Anthony Davis, who ran to the left wing to get himself open for a 3-point shot. It wasn’t the best look they could have asked for, but Rondo made the most of the situation.
“I knew if I had a clean look to come off he was going to put in on the money,” Davis said of Rondo. “It’s crazy because he had a 7-footer on him, and instead of throwing a chest pass that people make and probably would have gotten deflected, he threw a bounce pass where he couldn’t get to it and it landed right in my hands.”
Rondo did a little work behind-the-scenes to setup the shot too.
“As soon as Joker got the bucket on AD on the other end, I told him ‘right back,’” Rondo said. “I wasn’t in the game, but I was planning on getting him the ball back on the next possession and so he could score right back on him. Fortunately it happened to go that way.”
Rondo isn’t always perfect, and that was evident for most of Sunday’s game, but the Lakers wouldn’t have won Game 2 without his extraordinary basketball mind and his leadership on the bench. It was his defining moment in Los Angeles as much as it was A.D.’s, even if it won’t be remembered that way.