Regardless of what you call it -- a matchup problem, a coach sending a message, a strategy that gave the Mavericks the best chance to win -- Rajon Rondo didn't play the final 5:11 in a loss to the Chicago Bulls at home on Friday.
"Coach's decision," Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said in explanation of the move after the game.
But wait. In a 103-95 road win against Memphis on Monday, Carlisle said of Rondo, "A guy like that, you've just got to put him in there in crunch time and let him do what he does," per Tim MacMahon of ESPN Dallas.
Why the change of heart? Carlisle stuck with his original answer in the Friday press conference.
"It's just a coach's decision," he said. "Today is Friday. That was Monday. That's where it is."
And when asked to follow up, did it again: "Listen, if you want to make it a blowup story, be my guest. Go talk to him. It's a coach's decision."
And when asked one more time, just for good measure: "It's called: coach's decision," with a bit of an emphasis on each word. "That's how we're going to roll. Next question."
One of the things Carlisle and others in the Mavericks' organization praised when they traded for Rondo in December was his ability to come up in big moments. "Playoff Rondo" is a relatively well-known phenomenon where Rondo shines in big games but also big moments.
Don't except a drama-filled situation in the Dallas locker room, though. While disappointed he didn't finish, there were no angry words or veiled shots after the game from Rajon Rondo.
"It was a coach's decision," he said, using that familiar phrase. "Coach made the decision, it's as simple as that. I've been in this game for a long time. It's not like the end of the world. I like what coach Carlisle has done for me this year and I don't have any regrets."
He continued: "I don't think he was pissed off at me or anything, he just made a decision. That's what he went with. No big deal to me."
The Bulls backcourt lit Dallas up all night. Derrick Rose started red hot in the first quarter and finished with 20 points, while Jimmy Butler had an excellent all-around line of 20 points, eight rebounds, six assists and 44.4 percent shooting.
The Mavericks' defense has risen from no. 20 prior to the Rondo trade to no. 8 since (99.8 defensive rating), but their offense has also fallen from best in the league to no. 8 (106.0 offensive rating). The Mavericks trailed 92-85 in the fourth quarter when Carlisle opted to sub Devin Harris in for Rondo, who finished with six points on 3-9 shooting and four assists.
Regardless, it's a situation the mercurial point guard handled much better than he might have earlier in his career. He's been benched in Boston by Doc Rivers, and especially in recent years, his career has taken him through some difficult times.
"Absolutely," he said, when asked if he was better equipped to deal with this. "Maybe the [ACL] injury -- I'm just more appreciative of just playing the game, I'm very grateful to be playing the game I love. ... I'm a competitor. I'm pretty sure you all know I wanted to be in the game, but it didn't happen and did my best to cheer my teammates on."
Carlisle has always been close-lipped about his in-game management. Without a doubt, the decision he made to bench Rondo was made with the Mavericks' best interest in mind. Whether or not he was right, who knows. That can be discussed ad nauseam. Regardless, it's one that's in the past.
Carlisle is the coach. He made his decision.
"There are very few correct decisions when you lose games," Carlisle said at the end of his press conference. "I've learned that after coaching 1,000 of these, you've got to roll with your gut. When you're in the position I'm in, you've got to take the heat and you've got to welcome the heat because that's what this job is. You've also got to roll with you gut, and so that's what we did. We just came up short -- all of us. And we all own it."