I have a confession to make: I doubted Playoff Rondo. I didn’t think he was real. After watching two years of regular season stats and film indicating that the Lakers were better when Rajon Rondo sat than they were when he played, I thought Rondo might be toast. I didn’t think he could activate playoff mode. I wrote nearly 1,300 words wondering why the Lakers were even still playing him after one playoff game.
Boy, was I wrong.
It was just one game, but last night, in Game 2 of the Western Conference Semifinals against the Houston Rockets, Playoff Rondo was on full display, and he came to ball. He scored 10 points and 9 assists, but even that didn’t fully capture his impact. Rondo was picking up James Harden full-court on defense, all over the place in passing lanes and helping the Lakers control the pace of the game.
Rondo ended the evening a team-high +28 in plus-minus, which gets closer to reflecting his impact, but Lakers head coach Frank Vogel might be right that no numerals invented by the human race can truly capture Rondo’s impact. As Vogel has become fond of saying this season, there is truly only one way to measure it.
“His impact on our team is measured in swag,” Vogel said after the 117-109 win. “The confidence he brings to our group.”
And it’s like I always say: You can’t spell swag without a W. Rondo made sure the Lakers got one on Sunday.
Making me feel better about not believing in Playoff Rondo, at the very least, is that Rondo himself has bristled at the moniker in the past. But even if it can’t be captured by most stats, or explained by the limits of human logic and reason, Playoff Rondo, National TV Rondo, whatever you want to call him, is still very real, and is apparently a level that Lakers Rondo can still access. Even if he doesn’t like the implication, Rondo has been notably, statistically better when playing on national TV for years. His new Lakers teammates — and those of us watching the team — merely got our first taste on Sunday night.
“Playoff Rondo, man,” said Markieff Morris, clearly in awe of the magic, just like the rest of us. “He’s a floor general. He’s going to put us in our right spots. He’s always going to talk to us. He’s been here before, he’s done it at all different levels. We’re just happy to have him back, man, to lead the team.”
“That’s classic ‘Do, or vintage, however you want to put it,” added Lakers guard Danny Green. “Tonight on the defensive end he was able to do what he hasn’t done obviously in a long time, pick up full court, be active, be a gnat, be physical, and then offensively keep the pace at what we want to be, run the offense and give ‘Bron a break from handling the ball, bringing it up the floor and getting guys where they need to be, and capitalizing on mismatches.”
The part where Green says Rondo hasn’t done this in a long time might seem like incidental or subtle shade, and while it was probably unintentional, he’s also not wrong. The Lakers were significantly better on defense with Rondo on the bench all season, but Playoff Rondo does not live by the rules of our world. He is chaos in human form, activating because he is a natural force of this physical realm meant to haunt opponents in the NBA postseason. He is not limited by what the calculators of nerds like me think he could do, or what probability suggests is possible. Playoff Rondo simply decides that he is going to make the biggest statistical impact of any Lakers defender, to force the Rockets to score at a rate that would translate to 41.1 points less per 100 possessions while he is on the floor, and reality is left with no choice but to bend to his will.
Or, as LeBron James put it more simply, “That’s what ‘Do is, he’s a leader, and for us to have him back in the postseason, it’s a key for our team.
“He comes in, he pushes the tempo, he gets guys involved,” James continued. “That doesn’t always show up in the stat sheet with ‘Do, the intangibles that he does, offensively and defensively. His nose is always around the ball. He just makes plays for us, and tonight was another example of that.”
On Sunday night though, it did show up in the stat sheet, as well as jumping off the screen, and it’s forcing this blogger to apologize, even if there is almost zero chance Rondo will ever read it. Playoff Rondo, I am sorry. You are not the Loch Ness Monster, or Bigfoot, and at this point I have confidence you could lock them down to, if that was what you wanted to do. I never should have doubted you in the first place, and I never will again. You may not do this every game, but when you do, it is as magical as anything in basketball.