Rajon Rondo is a master at controlling the pace of games, whether it be turning tough defense into easy buckets or simply making timely plays in the half court.
As the Los Angeles Lakers’ backup point guard, Rondo must maintain the team’s production on both ends, especially offensively. Though he isn’t as consistent as he was earlier in his career, Rondo had a throwback game in the Lakers’ 114-112 win Sunday against the Boston Celtics.
He tallied a season-high five steals and dished five assists, along with scoring four points in 22 minutes off the bench.
Rondo has averaged 1.7 steals per game during his career, and Sunday’s game was the first time since March 2019 that he had five or more steals; he previously had six in a win against the Charlotte Hornets.
The Celtics arguably have the best collection of wings in the NBA, with Jayson Tatum, Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward being some of the top players on the team.
The Lakers needed to secure the perimeter. As their first line of defense, Rondo made defensive plays that helped the Lakers gain possession. The Lakers scored 20 points off turnovers and forced 17 turnovers. The Lakers rank third in points scored off turnovers (18.8), and seventh in opponent’s turnovers (15.5).
Rondo’s effort and performance on defense shouldn’t be a surprise. A 14-year guard, Rondo ranked first in steals per game during the 2009-10 season. He’s ranked top five in steals two other times during his career, and he’s currently ranked seventh in steals among active players, per NBA.com.
This season Rondo has a defensive rating of 106.9, which isn’t as good compared to the standards he set early in the 2010s. While he was on the Celtics, Rondo was considered to be one of the best defensive point guards in the league, along with players such as Chris Paul.
During the 2010-11 season, Rondo had a defensive rating of 99.8; in the 2011-12 season he had a defensive rating of 97.9. When the Celtics won the championship in 2008, Rondo’s defensive rating was 97.1.
Rondo’s championship experience is going to bring the stability that will be necessary for the Lakers’ reserves in the playoffs.
His ability to control a game, whether it be slowing it down or speeding it up, is perhaps his best attribute. A premier floor general, Rondo has led the league in assists three times during his career. He’s averaging 5.3 assists per game in 2019-20.
With the playoff push ramping up in these next few weeks, a continued emergence of “playoff Rondo” will bode well for the Lakers. Rondo has played some of his best basketball in the postseason.
In eight playoff appearances, Rondo has averaged double figures in scoring all but once, when he played with the Dallas Mavericks during the 2015 postseason. Rondo has also averaged 9.3 assists and 1.9 steals during the playoffs.
The Lakers will need as much firepower as possible in the playoffs, especially defensively. The Western Conference is filled with quality teams: The Los Angeles Clippers have perhaps the most offensive scoring weapons in the league other than the Celtics. The Houston Rockets have a surging two-pronged attack in Russell Westbrook and James Harden.
But if Rondo can prove to be one of their key players, someone who has to be accounted for on both ends of the floor, the Lakers will have a good shot at the title.
The Lakers will play the New Orleans Pelicans at Staples Center on Tuesday to finish their three-game homestand.