Elliott: Rajon Rondo sets emotional tone for Lakers in his journey back to NBA title
Guardian of the Lakers Rajon Rondo holds the Larry O'Brien trophy in front of his teammates and Lakers owner Jeanie Buss (bottom right) after the team won the Miami Heat Championship in Game 6 of the NBA Finals.
The Lakers' 17th NBA title was as good as won. Their lead over the Miami Heat rose to 30 points as the third quarter ended on Sunday, but Rajon Rondo never thought of easing.
The veteran's focus was never before when he got off the bank in the first quarter. The Lakers were only two points ahead and still unsure if they would be able to hold off the itchy, prolonged heat. He had helped them build a lead that reached 36 points by scoring 19 points and playing his usual determined defense and he didn't want to relax until his mission was accomplished.
And so he passed the traffic on, spoke to teammates and pointed to the places he knew they should go to in order to complete their championship task. They listened carefully, trusting his knowledge and instincts as they staged a suffocating surge that shattered Miami's hopes and set the stage for a 106-93 win that saw hugs and tears of joy and wild swirls of confetti at the AdventHealth Arena ended.
"We knew Miami wasn't going to stop. We saw it before we went to the other series. They came back from 19th, 20th and fourth place," said security guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. "We had it seen it before and Rondo just realized that. And Rondo is a great coach and player on the pitch. He brought us to our places. He made sure that we just keep attacking and end the game. Don't let up. He got that through tonight and we all just shopped and got the dub. "
The "dub" is the W, the fourth win that ensured Miami wouldn't push them to a seventh game. “We were locked up tonight, especially on the defensive. We didn't make too many mistakes tonight. And when we did that, we quickly corrected it, ”said Rondo. "Defensively it was all five boys. The coaches' schedule was spot on and we knew that if we put it together for 48 minutes we could come out and have a defensive game like we did tonight."
Most importantly, Rondo set an emotional tone that was reinforced by each Lakers player. It was only fitting that the spotlight should be brightest on superstars LeBron James and Anthony Davis after the Lakers penned a thrilling ending to a season brutally disrupted by the tragedy of Kobe Bryant's death and the COVID-19 pandemic was thrown into chaos. The impact of James and Davis was immeasurable in not only defeating their opponents but also setting standards for their own teammates.
But also a number of second players - especially Rondo and Caldwell-Pope, who got the starting job when Avery Bradley decided against playing in the bubble - filled their roles brilliantly, bringing depth and dimension that Portland, Houston, Denver and Miami could do not nearly match.
LeBron James, the Lakers striker, and Rajon Rondo, the Guardian, embrace after beating the Miami Heat to win the NBA title. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
After that, as confetti swirled around them and the novelty of their triumph set in, Rondo and James hugged for a long time. Rondo hit James twice on the chest, perhaps in thanks, perhaps in recognition of the post-season efforts that earned James the Bill Russell trophy for Most Valuable Player in the finals. However, Rondo's role should not be forgotten in helping the Lakers establish the high standards of defense that ultimately separated them from the rest of the NBA.
"Rondo said it in our team meeting [on Saturday]," said General Manager Rob Pelinka. "'If we want to win a championship it has to be defense, period.'"
Twelve years after winning a title with the Boston Celtics - and ten years after losing to the Lakers in the final - Rondo was back on top. He used the word "surreal" more than once to describe his feelings, and that certainly fitted. His wait between his first and second titles is the longest for an NBA player who has played at least one postseason game for a title winning team. Earl Cureton previously triumphed with Philadelphia in the 1982/83 season and with Houston in 1993/94.
"I've been through a lot in my career," said Rondo. “Everyone goes through a lot after playing the game for that long, 14 years. And I was successful early on. Lots of great teammates early on. Lots of great coaching staff early on. And I thought this was the NBA.
“And of course things changed for me in years 10, 11 in my career. Every time I went to training camp, they weren't expected to win the championship because of the teams I was on and that was a different attitude to the season. This season we achieved our goal and dream because we understood that we had a team to fight for a championship and be able to come full circle a year later. "
The wait was definitely worth it. "It's been a long time for me. The last time I was in this situation the result obviously wasn't that good, so it's definitely a damn good feeling to come back and pay back myself and play a new role in this championship "He said." It is definitely something that I will remember for the rest of my life. "
Having his 9-year-old son Rajon Jr. in the playoff bubble meant a lot to him. He joked that the boy was mad at him after the Lakers failed to finish the final in five games. He and his son did not sleep well that night. But that was all behind them on Sunday. "His first question was when would he get a ring," said Rondo, who missed the Lakers' first-round conquest of Portland as he was recovering from surgery to fix a broken thumb he was in July had suffered. "I am a proud father."
Caldwell-Pope also had a rocky start to the playoffs, shooting 9-0 in the Lakers playoff opener against Portland, echoing the rocky start to the regular season. He, too, focused on defense to get started, and his contributions have been invaluable.
"My season didn't start the way I wanted it to. I put a lot of work into this summer and spent 100% on my summer training. When I start like this, it kind of got me down because I expected it to be different" "said Caldwell-Pope, who had 17 points on Sunday." But I just stayed with myself. I knew what I could do. I knew I could shoot the ball. I knew I could play.
“It was just about having a clear mind and headspace to go out and play and not worry about what everyone else is saying about me because I know my job and know that I'm doing my job very well do, but I knew it was going to turn around because of the work I did. The only thing I had to do was stick with it. My teammates were 100% behind me and everything turned out to be great for me. "
It has been great for all of them to support players and superstars on this long and strange journey that has lasted over 12 months. “It feels great. At the moment words can't explain it. The emotions really aren't running yet, ”said Caldwell-Pope. "I'm enjoying my team-mates right now. It's a great feeling to be called world champion. ... An incredible feeling."
Elliott reported from Los Angeles.
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.
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