On a normal Friday, I race out of work as soon as the clock strikes 5:01 (you have to give them that one extra minute so it doesn’t look like I’m packing up before the witching hour), jump in my Civic, take the motor off of “Eco-Mode” and punch it home. It’s a race against time. The quicker I can get home, the quicker I can get my weekend started.
This past Friday, I was sluggish. I knew that the real work had only begun. The closer I got to home, the sooner I would have to pack my wife’s office and then pack our two-bedroom apartment for our move up to Philadelphia. Rushing home to pack isn’t worth racing home for.
As we cranked through our guest bedroom, my closet (including my work out clothes and 12-pairs of shoes) and the kitchen, I turned off our curated Dave Matthews Band playlist in favor of the New Orleans Pelicans and Golden State Warriors. I wont lie to you, it was just supposed to be background noise that offered a quick mental break every now and then. I never anticipated sitting down and watching all of it.
But then something great happened. With a little over six minutes left in the first quarter, our old friend got his Optimus Prime on. Regular Rajon transformed into Playoff Rondo and completely took over a must win game against the Western Conference favorite. After a Jrue Holiday dunk, Rondo found Niko on the perimeter. A minute later, he hit Solomon Hill for another triple. The next trip down, he shuffled a pass over to Anthony Davis on a pick-and-roll for another bomb from downtown. It was immediately followed by another assisted three from Hill and a mid-range jumper from E-Twaun Moore.
Playoff Rondo, the perfect set-up man, was the contributing member of 14-straight points to push the Pelicans to a 30-point first quarter explosion.
At this point, you don’t need me to tell you that the last player to have 20-assists in a playoff game was Rajon Rondo. You also don’t need me to tell you that the only other player to have TWO 20-assist and 10 rebound games was Magic Johnson. And, if you’re a Bulls fan, you don’t need me to tell you the importance Playoff Rondo has on a team.
We saw it last year when the Bulls jumped to a quick 2-0 series lead against the Celtics. There was little question going into that series as to who Chicago’s best player was, but Rondo was the most important. He was the straw that stirred the drink. He was their motor. He was their leader (especially for the young guys on the team). While Butler (and I suppose Dwyane Wade) were off on an island of their own creation, the rest of the team revolved around Rondo.
For those two games, he was effectively a player-coach. He was calling out plays. He was jumping passing lanes. When hero ball wasn’t working, it was Rondo that put players in positions to succeed. He was the perfect veteran for a roster of “young and athletic” players.
If only the money grabbing Wade never came with him.
Rondo, for all of his faults, meant a lot to the Bulls then and still does right now (don’t undersell how important he was to Valentine, Portis, Zipser and Cam Payne’s development). That one year with Rondo was worth five years of Butler’s “you need to work harder than me” style of leadership. He was continuously at Windy City Bulls games; even when he was suspended. He had their ear and those guys had his. He was a shoulder for them to lean on. They were able to call on him when they had questions about how to make it in the league.
To this day, guys like Nikola Mirotic still say Rondo was the best teammate he ever had.
That’s saying something.
When he was actually playing, the former All-Star point guard was anything but consistent. There were ups and there were downs. BUT, when he would turn the clocks back to take over, there was nothing quite like it. When Playoff Rondo (or, TNT Rondo) shows up for your team, it’s one of the best shows in all of the NBA. The way he can manipulate the ball to fit passes into
windows sidewalk cracks is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. When he’s on and active, it’s a master class in how to toy with an opposing defense. Like any good magician, he’s continuously tricking the opposition into giving up the look HE wants. It makes everyone’s job so much easier. The only thing those other four dudes have to do is play. There’s no thinking involved. Playoff Rondo does that for you. Just keep your head up because you never know when a pass is going to be flung your way.
Of course, part of the reason it’s so special (and important to soak those performances up) is because there is no consistency to them (at least since the Big-3 left Boston). Unlike LeBron James (who I’m starting to believe is from Westworld), Playoff Rondo is a delicacy. You only get to enjoy it every once and a while.
But, being able to witness it up close — even if it was one rocky, drama filled Bulls season — is something I will always look back at fondly. For every DNP there was Game-2 against the Celtics where he was the only person other than Michael Jordan who finished a playoff game with 10-assists and five steals. For every game in a short sleeve suit, there was the 25/11/6 he put up against the Hawks where he was shockingly 3-6 from three. For every twist (“My Vets”) and turn (the Jim Boylen towel incident) there was a near triple-double against Milwaukee or the real triple-double against LeBron James in December.
Those moments when you would jump on Twitter and see that #TNTRondo was trending were unforgettable. Just like this past Friday night, you can’t help but become adsorbed in what you’re watching while simultaneously forgetting about everything else.
Rondo may have only been on the Bulls for one disaster of a season, but for all that he was and all that he wasn’t, I’ve realized that he was one of my favorite Bulls players that I’ve watched in my lifetime.
Does that mean that I fell the hardest for all of his tricks? More than likely. But when it’s all said and done, I just can’t deny his magic.