PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Rajon Rondo is healthy and he's locked in.
That's good news for the New Orleans Pelicans, not so much for the Portland Trail Blazers. When Rondo is locked in during the postseason, the 6-foot-1 guard who won an NBA title with the Boston Celtics has shown he can be a tough out.
Over the course of his career, Rondo has averaged 10.5 points, 8.5 assists and 4.8 rebounds. Comparatively in the playoffs, he has averaged 14.3 points, 9.2 assists and six rebounds per game.
Not that he is buying into the Playoff Rondo hype, however.
"There's a lot of factors into that. I don't think you can break it down as simple as one or two things," Rondo said after practice Monday. "The interview would probably be too long for me to break it down completely. It's a matter of me being healthy, minutes, my teammates trusting me, my coaching staff trusting me.
"I think we, as a team, we're playing pretty good under pressure."
They are indeed.
Rondo dished out 17 assists in Game 1 of the series, helping the Pelicans take a 1-0 series lead.
"You know, he's one of the smartest players in the league," Portland coach Terry Stotts said. "He can really orchestrate an offense. He makes his teammates better because he can find them. Defensively, he's really smart: He can sniff things out on the defensive end."
This was the Rondo that New Orleans hoped it would see in the postseason when the Pelicans signed him to a one-year deal.
Rondo has a reputation as a mercurial player — at times locked in and controlling games, at others seemingly disinterested. A big reason for his success in New Orleans is he's healthy. After missing the first 13 games with a core muscle injury, Rondo played in 65 regular-season games, starting 63.
And he thrives under the playoff lights.
New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry mused about Rondo's playoff aptitude before Game 1.
"I think that anyone, if you go back to last year and you watched the Chicago team, what he meant to that team, they went in there and won two games in Boston when Boston was really good," Gentry said. "And I think there is a sense of confidence that he has, especially this time of the year."
Rondo played a major role in the Pelicans' 97-95 victory in Portland on Saturday night. He tied a franchise record with 17 assists, grabbed eight rebounds and stymied Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum with his defense.
Anthony Davis, who was on the receiving end of many of those assists and finished with 35 points in the game, said Rondo took charge of the game.
"He's just in a different mode," Davis said.
The Trail Blazers certainly noticed that.
Rondo was in Chicago last year when Playoff Rondo emerged. After an up-and-down season, he played well in the first game of the team's opening series against the Celtics. But he was particularly good in Game 2, just missing a triple-double with 11 points, 14 assists and nine rebounds as the Bulls put Boston in an 0-2 hole. Just as important was his defense on Celtics star Isaiah Thomas.
But he broke his thumb in that second game and was ruled out indefinitely before Game 3. Chicago went on to drop the series to the Celtics.
The Pelicans brought Rondo in hoping he would run the offense and boost Jrue Holiday in the shooting guard position. In the process, Rondo has developed extraordinary chemistry with Davis — and Holiday has had one of the best seasons of his career.
After DeMarcus Cousins injured his Achilles on Jan. 26, New Orleans shifted to more of an up-tempo offense and the change suited Rondo's ability to push the pace. He had 13 of his double-digit assist games in the 31 games he played after Cousins went out.
Rondo averaged 8.2 points and 8.2 assists this year and finished the regular season with 15 double-doubles and two triple-doubles.
Gentry has been impressed with what he's seen.
"He's a really bright player. One of the smartest guys I've ever been around," the coach said. "I had the opportunity to coach Steph, Chris Paul, Steve Nash, Grant Hill. When you start talking about the extremely smart players, he's one of those guys. I also think he has a way of giving confidence to the other guys. He makes them believe in themselves."
After helping Davis notch his first playoff career victory, Rondo has the Pelicans believing there is more where that one came from.
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This story has been updated to correct that Rondo is 6-foot-1, not 6-4.