Playoff Rajon Rondo Won't Always Save the Lakers

Rajon Rondo
Rajon Rondo / Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Rajon Rondo in the postseason, known as "Playoff Rondo", is more myth than reality at this point. The legend of Playoff Rondo began in the early stages of the last decade when Rondo came into his own as an NBA player just as his Big 3 teammates in Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen began to slow down. Rondo elevated his play so significantly in the notorious 2012 series against LeBron James and the Miami Heat that Playoff Rondo became accepted as fact for the next half-dozen years.

The thing is, after that playoff series, that version of Rondo has been hard to find. Once the All-Star point guard left Boston, consistent play was rare and he bounced around the league, labeled as a malcontent and an important veteran presence in equal doses. Playoff Rondo made one appearance in the last eight years, showing up during the New Orleans Pelicans' playoff run in 2017-18 when he averaged 10 points and 12 assists per game before the Pelicans lost their second-round series in five games.

Then came Rondo's vintage performance last night during the Los Angeles Lakers' 112-102 win over the Houston Rockets to give L.A. a series lead. Shelved after fracturing his thumb, Tuesday night marked Rondo's second game in the bubble, and the Lakers likely don't win without his play. He scored 13 points in the second half and at one point, between scoring and assists, was responsible for 19 straight Lakers points in a pivotal fourth quarter. Hell, Rondo (a career 32 percent three-point shooter) even hit a few from deep, including one ridiculous step-back that indicated everything was going right for him that evening.

The Lakers needed Rondo's boost to avoid going down 2-1 to Houston. For a team that has LeBron James and Anthony Davis, that doesn't sound great. But the Lakers' star duo certainly showed up for this particular matchup, combining for 62 points, 22 rebounds, and 11 assists. Then there's the fact that it's the playoffs. Unexpected heroes rise to the occasion for title contenders. It's not a matter of concern that, without Rondo, Los Angeles would have been hard-pressed to win this particular game.

But they won't be able to rely on that version of Rondo to save them going forward. Consider: out of 48 games played this season, that was only Rondo's fifth with three or more made three-point field goals. It was only his third with eight or more made shots from the field. He crossed the 20-point threshold in Game 3, the third time he managed that this year. At this stage in his career, anything Rondo can give his team on the scoreboard is gravy; his biggest contributions will always come via his passing and occasionally his defense. As the Lakers' eighth or ninth man on any given night, they have the luxury of not relying on Rondo for big minutes if it's not his night.

But what the Lakers have not gotten from their role players is scoring punch. Danny Green still can't hit the side of a barn, and points have been hard to come by from anyone not named Kyle Kuzma. They got it from Rondo last night, but to get past an offensive powerhouse like the Rockets when both Russell Westbrook and James Harden are having even decent nights, they need more of it.

Rondo's stats from this season suggest this might be the last scoring outburst we see from him this postseason. Playoff Rondo has reminded everyone he still has something left in the tank, but the Lakers have to find someone else for the production they need to advance.