Pelicans vs. Trail Blazers: Playoff Rajon Rondo looks to complete what he couldn't finish last year with Bulls
Rondo has been in this 2-0 situation before, but his last chance at a huge upset was cut down by injury
For Rajon Rondo, this all should feel very familiar.
The Pelicans stunned everybody when they defeated the Trail Blazers 111-102 Tuesday in Game 2, and stealing both games in Portland to take a 2-0 lead in the series. While New Orleans is clearly good enough to get one, this was a series that's supposed to go long and usually the higher seed gets at least one game at home. Instead, the lower seed surprisingly finds itself up 2-0 -- a situation the Pelicans' veteran guard was in exactly one year ago.
The idea of "Playoff" Rondo was always more tongue in cheek than an actual compliment. During his days on the Celtics, he was well known for having incredible performances on the big stages, such as national TV, or in many cases the playoffs. Was it an effort thing? Focus? Does he enjoy the attention? Nobody is really sure, but the best of Rondo always came out in these moments and it was hard to not poke fun at the difference.
As Rondo went from NBA champion starting point guard to NBA journeyman, the mystique of Playoff Rondo went away. He had a miserable stint with the Mavericks that led to him in the middle of a playoff series. That was the lasting image of Rondo in the playoffs for a long time.
That was until he played for the Bulls and Chicago snuck into the playoffs last year as an 8-seed. Playing against the Celtics, Rondo and the Bulls were expected to be eliminated fairly quickly. They were an old and overmatched team going up against the Eastern Conference's best. What instead happened was an old friend came out to play. It was the return of Playoff Rondo. In two games, Rondo averaged 11.5 points, 10 assists and 8.5 rebounds. The Bulls went back to Chicago up 2-0. Just like the Pelicans are doing now.
However, a thumb injury cut Rondo's time in the spotlight short. Rondo was confident the Bulls would have taken care of business andhad he been healthy, but he couldn't get on the floor. Chicago would go on to lose the next four games.
This time, with the Pelicans, Rondo is getting another chance at knocking off a higher seed with a great playoff performance. In Game 2, he scored 16 points, dished out nine assists and pulled down 10 rebounds. In Game 1, he had six points, 17 assists and eight rebounds. Playoff Rondo is here, he's healthy and he's giving the Blazers fits with his play.
Of course, it hasn't all been Rondo. He's had the chance to take a back seat to Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday while those two run the show. In Game 1, Davis had 35 points and 14 rebounds. Holiday poured in a career playoff-high 33 points in Game 2 while dishing out nine assists himself. These two have been everywhere, but behind them the entire time has been Rondo.
Rondo fills in the small holes that Davis and Holiday can't cover. He's even managed to take a weakness that should hurt them and turn it into a strength. Teams don't guard Rondo on the perimeter because he's a historically terrible 3-point shooter. Rondo uses this extra space as vision to make plays, but he also uses it to be so incredibly open that even he can't miss a shot. Such as his dagger in Game 2:
Damian Lillard didn't even bother to cover Rondo here, because he's a a career 30 percent shooter from 3-point range. Holiday has been torching the Blazers all night. Davis is a monster that deserves extra attention. The logic makes sense, but all logic should be thrown out the window in the face of Playoff Rondo.
The mystique is back. Rondo is heading home in a playoff series up 2-0 with a chance to close out at home just like last year. Except he's healthy this go around and the stars around him are arguably better. This is his chance to pull off an upset. It's his chance to add to the legacy that is Playoff Rondo.
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