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Unpacking the Playoff Rondo Phenomenon

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The Mavs need Rajon Rondo's past playoff reputation to appear in the present.

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Playoff Rondo became an urban legend during his deep playoff runs with the Celtics from 2008-2012. The return of this narrative will determine just how far this Mavericks team can go.

Rondo's mercurial, idiosyncratic personality seeps into his play. He fluctuates between aloof and dominant perhaps more than any player in this league. Rondo possesses a high level of intelligence and self-awareness that both helps him and limits him. He seems to have a thorough understanding of situation that allows him recognize and excel in big moments while that same level of recognition causes him to coast in unimportant ones. The polarity of his play only adds to the mythos of Playoff Rondo.

Rondo's extensive playoff experience began at the ripe age of 21. He was a young point guard simply guiding a ship filled with brilliant hall of famers en route to an NBA championship. The genesis of Playoff Rondo can be traced to the 2009 playoffs, more specifically, his first round duel with Derrick Rose. Rondo was simply brilliant during that first round series. He registered two triple-doubles while averaging 19.4 points 11.5 assists and 9.2 rebounds. His entire skillset was on display as a new age Jason Kidd.

The highly competitive nature of that series—four overtime games and a game seven—sparked the chatter about Playoff Rondo being a different animal than regular season Rondo. The series transformed the Rondo narrative from talented, unassuming point guard to full fledged star.

During the 2010 playoffs Rondo's performance waxed and waned until Playoff Rondo showed up in game four of the second round against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Rondo put up a triple-double with 29 points 18 rebounds and 13 assists against the LeBron-led Cavs. He was the best player on the floor in a game that featured four other hall of famers. It was the kind of traditional basketball clinic that basketball purists fawn over.

When Rondo is firing on all cylinders he brings everyone along with him. He invades defenses like a deadly virus poisoning form the inside out: finishing at the rim, hitting baseline cutters from impossible angles, and finding shooters from anywhere on the court. Peak Rondo is exponential.

2011 saw only a small portion of Playoff Rondo. The dark sith lord Dwyane Wade got unnecessarily tangled up with Rondo and caused him to dislocate his elbow.

The peak of Playoff Rondo occurred during the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals against the Heat. Rondo controlled every aspect of the Celtic offense in a super competitive seven game series. In game two Rondo had the best game of his career with 44 points 10 assists and 8 rebounds in an overtime loss. Few players can say they went blow for blow with LeBron James at his peak powers. Rondo looked like a top five player on the planet for the duration of the series.

While Rondo will help the Mavs to navigate the ebbs and flow of the regular season, his true worth will be shown in the playoffs. Last year, Jose Calderon was nearly unplayable in the playoffs. Every deficiency becomes magnified in the playoffs. Teams have ample time to scout your weaknesses and exploit them. The Mavs had a gaping hole at a position that every other West contender had a strength: point guard.

Making the Finals in the West requires tough sledding through a gauntlet of terrifying point guards. That made the Rondo trade absolutely necessary no matter the pitfalls. A clear ceiling hovered over the Mavs until they fixed their point guard issue.

No one knows if Playoff Rondo is gone or simply lying in the weeds. But he's the Mavs' best chance at a ring.