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Mace & Crown | March 19, 2018

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Rondo Partying Like It's 2012

Rondo Partying Like It’s 2012

Richard Hill | Contributing Writer

If for only one night, Rajon Rondo turned back the clock and reminded us of what he used to be.

Last night’s playoff game between the counter-culture #TNTBulls and dubious 1-Seed Celtics featured many surprising things: Robin Lopez’s 18 points on 8 of 11 shooting through three quarters, Chicago as a team making as many threes (10) as Boston despite attempting only 25 to Boston’s 33 and a 111-97 upset win for the 8-Seed Bulls who now lead the series 2-0 going in to Chicago. But none of these were more surprising than the game Rajon Rondo had against his former team: 11 points, nine rebounds, and 14 assists while also tallying five steals.

Rondo’s totals through the first half were eight points, seven rebounds, and nine assists, as he looked like he had found his pre-ACL tear form making flashy passes, grabbing tough rebounds, finishing at the rim, pushing the pace of the game, and trying on defense for the first time in years. There was a point in time where performances like this were a common occurrence for him, but due to the unfortunate unfolding of his career, it’s not something we’d seen since the 2012-13 regular season.

The mythos of Playoff/National TV Rondo is well known among NBA fans, who remember his incredible performance against the Miami Heat in the 2011-12 playoffs. That series featured six future Hall of Famers in Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and LeBron James who was at the time the best player in the world. The seven game series wasn’t quite a passing of the torch (that had happened the year before), but it was certainly a grudge match between the two.

Boston wouldn’t go away quite that easily this year, eventually losing in seven games after taking a 3-2 lead–the start of the end for the Ubuntu Celtics. Rondo would average almost 21 points, seven rebounds and 11 assists for the series, including a monstrous 44-point performance in an overtime loss in Game 2 as well as a 22-point, 10-rebound, 14-assist triple-double in Game 7. He was the second best player on the floor in this series and dueled with the best player on the planet during his apex to the point where the series was forced into a decisive game seven.

Unfortunately, that was the last we saw of Playoff Rondo until 2015 when he was traded to the Dallas Mavericks. Since then, Boston had undergone a complete rebuild; Garnett, Pierce, Allen, and their head coach Doc Rivers exited and Rondo had undergone surgery for a torn ACL he had suffered during the 2012-13 season. Boston was not a good team when Rondo returned from his ACL surgery and his time away from the game had caused him to grow increasingly ornery. When combined with the Celtics on the court struggles and their angling for the future, Celtics GM Danny Ainge felt it was time to move on from the embattled point guard.

Rondo bounced around in the league after an ugly public falling out with Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle which resulted in him barely playing, and performing poorly when he did play, during their brief postseason berth in the 2014-15 season. The following season Rondo became a free agent and eventually signed with Sacramento where he played for only one year with the notoriously difficult DeMarcus Cousins.

In Sacramento, Rondo made a mockery of the assist, was called out by media members for attempting to pad his stats. He led the NBA in assists that year, averaging 11.7 per game while Sacramento finished with a 33-49 record under George Karl, who spent most of the season publicly feuding with DeMarcus Cousins. Rondo was apparently wholly disinterested in resigning with an organization that had employed three head coaches in the same season (2014-15), four in the last three years, and was now searching for their fifth head coach since the 2012-13 season.

The Bulls signed Rondo, someone most of the league viewed as washed-up and outdated, a point guard that couldn’t shoot in today’s NBA, as part of a push for the Bulls to contend for a championship this year. Rondo was to be combined with 34-year-old Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler, two other back court players that hadn’t shown the ability to consistently hit threes, resulting in a move that was met with amused skepticism and did not immediately yield positive results on or off the court. The Bulls were an overall average team that had unsurprising offensive struggles which resulted in a strained relationship between Rondo and Wade & Butler.

Their otherwise bizarre season during which they traded their starting power forward and best bench scorer for someone no longer on the roster and a player that recorded a DNP-CD in their Game 2 win against the Celtics. The Bulls made a late surge to close out the season, going 7-2 over their last nine games resulting in the eighth seed in the East, setting the table for a rematch between Rondo and the team that drafted him.

One of the most exciting and unique players in basketball’s history gave us a throwback performance long after we thought he was still capable of it tonight and considering his antagonistic nature it’s not much of a surprise that he chose this series to play like his old self. If he can do it twice more, he could help lead Chicago to an improbable 8-1 upset.

Chicago will host the Celtics for game three on Friday April 21 at 7 p.m.