Rajon Rondo wows Pelicans teammates during historic 25-assist performance

by Jim Eichenhofer
@Jim_Eichenhofer

Rajon Rondo has played in over 700 regular season games, along with nearly 100 playoff contests, including dozens in front of national TV audiences during his eight seasons with the Boston Celtics. So it’s not often that the 12-year NBA veteran – who has over 6,000 career assists under his belt – does something that avid basketball observers have never seen before.

On Wednesday, the 31-year-old point guard managed to wow even some of his seasoned teammates by controlling a 128-113 win over Brooklyn from start to finish, racking up a New Orleans-record 25 assists. Rondo dished out at least four assists in every quarter, capped by a franchise-record 10 in the fourth period, en route to the best statistical passing night of his decorated career.

“I had a previous stint with him in Sacramento,” said Pelicans big DeMarcus Cousins, a Rondo teammate in 2015-16. “I thought I’d seen some of his best performances – and even some of his days with the Celtics – but to watch him come out and do this tonight, with basically ease, is a testimony to his talent.”

“To get 25 is pretty incredible,” fellow Pelicans All-Star Anthony Davis said of the rare feat.

Indeed, Rondo became the first player in 21 years to dish out 25-plus assists in an NBA game, something that hadn’t been done since Jason Kidd in 1996. Rondo’s previous career high in that category was 24 (by the way, the all-time NBA record is 30, set in 1990 by Scott Skiles). As guard Jrue Holiday explained, Rondo’s anticipation, savvy and passing ability make it easy for teammates to benefit from that skill set.

“We pretty much just have to move,” said Holiday, who capitalized on eight Rondo assists, among Holiday’s 10/17 shooting night. “If you see an open lane to cut, he’ll get (the ball) there. I don’t know how he does, but he’ll get it there. When he’s on the court, everybody has this type of energy, where you want to play and get out in the lanes, cut, set flare screens and see everyone succeed, because that’s the type of guy he is. Playing with him has been really fun.

“It was cool. I’m glad I got to be a part of that. It’s pretty awesome,” Holiday continued, before joking, “I want to think that I gave him about 20 of his assists.”

“It’s his vision,” said Davis, who scored baskets off four Rondo assists. “There are some times when I think he’s going to lay it up (for a shot) or hit a guy (with a pass), but then he finds another guy who is wide open. The way he sees the floor is truly amazing. He always puts the ball where it needs to be – it’s never low or too high. It’s always in the shooting pocket.”

As Holiday noted, Rondo’s unselfish, pass-first approach seems to have rubbed off on the Pelicans as a team. New Orleans set a single-game record Wednesday by piling up 40 assists against the Nets, further solidifying the Pelicans as one of the NBA’s premier passing clubs. Per NBA.com, New Orleans ranks second in the league in assists per game (26.8), behind only Golden State (30.2). Among the team’s baskets this season, 64.1 percent of them have been assisted, a rate that ranks third in the NBA.

“We looked like the Harlem Globetrotters at one point tonight,” Cousins said of a fourth-quarter sequence when the ball was moving rapidly around the floor, including a difficult-to-describe, between-the-legs jump pass by Rondo. “But it’s fun to play that way. Everyone’s involved, everyone’s touching the ball, everyone’s getting shot attempts.”

Rondo joined exclusive company Wednesday as one of only four players in NBA history to notch multiple games of 24-plus assists in their careers. The others are Magic Johnson, Isiah Thomas and all-time category leader John Stockton. Rondo smiled at being part of that quartet, but stressed that his focus was on New Orleans (18-16) continuing to build on its recent momentum, winning a third straight game. The Pelicans will try to post a season-high fourth consecutive victory Friday vs. Dallas.

“It’s definitely an honor to be mentioned with those guys, especially passing the ball, which I take pride in,” Rondo said of Johnson, Thomas and Stockton.

“The number one thing is we got the win. And then me personally, I love passing the ball. When everyone touches the ball, it gives you energy and life on defense. That’s what I’m a big believer in, giving everyone touches and energy on both ends of the floor.