The Pelicans grabbed a vital and unexpected win in their second-round series against the Warriors Friday night, in a game that was never close after the Pelicans ripped off a 10-1 run near the start of the second half. Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday were fabulous; Nikola Mirotic got loose for a double-double on some hot and timely perimeter work; the Pelicans bench outperformed their counterparts pretty handily. And Rajon Rondo, well, see for yourself:
It’s an absolutely perfect Rajon Rondo line: four points on miserable 2-of-11 shooting, plus oh just 21 assists. A lot of these were the result of guys just making shots—Rondo had 30 potential assists in the game, which is a goddamn ton, but consider that Ben Simmons had 23 potential assists in Philly’s Game 1 loss to the Celtics, and just six total assists. But there’s some fun and slick Classic Rondo playmaking in there: a couple times when Rondo uses his body to wall off unsuspecting defenders in semi-transition so he can drop it off to a trailing big for an open three; several gorgeous sidearm bounce passes into the lane; a couple hop-step drives where he uses his eyes to freeze the nearest defender, like a quarterback looking off a safety. Assists are an imperfect stat and are subject to the interpretation of the score-keeper, but it’s still worth noting that Rondo came within a few missed jumpers of tying the all-time playoff assist record (24, held by Magic Johnson and John Stockton).
But that wasn’t Rondo’s only fist-pumping contribution to a series that, without his Game 3 heroics, might’ve just been a miserable march to a Warriors sweep. In the first quarter, after an Alvin Gentry timeout, the Rondo-Draymond Green beef resurfaced:
The Warriors are a brash, woofing, bullying outfit. The Pelicans are good; their best players are excellent; at their very best, they play an aggressive, fearless brand of basketball. But their best players, and the majority of their players overall, do not have the temperament to push back when various Warriors players get cocky or aggressive. Anthony Davis is not the guy who is going to go chest to chest with Draymond Green. He might dunk on him, he might rain deep jumpers over him, he might swat his shot into the third row, but when Green is looking to start shit, Davis is not going to give the viewer a vicarious thrill by giving as good as he gets.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, except to the extent that non-Warriors fans sometimes desperately need to see those guys flustered and unglued, to be reminded that it’s possible for their easy, machine-like dominance to be disrupted. Rondo’s passing was marvelous; that he very obviously irritates and flusters Draymond Green is a damn blessing:
It’s not quite denying kicking a guy in the dick and balls out of frustration after the whole world watches you kick a guy in the dick and balls out of frustration, but it’s pretty rich to ask “when have I went up to him and tried to bait him” after the whole world watched you lunge to prevent him from taking a practice shot after a timeout!
Neither guy was willing to admit to baiting the other—Rondo chalked it up to Green “talking a lot of shit” and his own unwillingness to back down—but they definitely are not enjoying each other’s company this series. In all likelihood the Warriors are going to respond to the Game 3 setback by nuking the bejeezus out of the Pelicans Sunday afternoon, and finishing up with a gentleman’s sweep in Game 5. To have any chance of extending it beyond that, the Pelicans will need to press every advantage—not just Rondo’s galactic brain playmaking, but also the irritation and distraction caused by his stubborn refusal to take any of Draymond Green’s shit.