With averages of 15.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, 11.5 assists and 3.0 steals, Rajon Rondo has unquestionably let his play do most of the talking through the first two games of the New Orleans Pelicans playoff series against the Golden State Warriors. However, when he hasn’t spent time barking out offensive sets or guiding teammates to the right parts of the floor defensively, his voice and actions have been busy trying to invade Draymond Green’s psyche.
When the Pelicans were trailing by 21 points at 69-48 in Game 1, Rondo nonchalantly reached out for a high-five from Draymond Green after he shot a free throw attempt — one that he had missed.
Rondo tried to high five Draymond Green after he missed a free throw pic.twitter.com/SEKBM5b3uv— Ball Is Life™ (@BallOnIy) April 29, 2018
This hand gesture is normal behavior between teammates, of course, but for a player from an opposing team to try it in the heat of the moment, that’s a really cute way of needling an opponent.
Minutes later, the world witnessed Green and Rondo have quite the heated discussion as both squads were headed to their respected locker rooms for the halftime break.
Draymond Green and Rajon Rondo exchange words at halftime. pic.twitter.com/hDUr0hDw1A— RealGM (@RealGM) May 2, 2018
Although neither player mentioned the juicy details to postgame media later, it’s probably safe to assume the conversation consisted of all sorts of expletives and trash talk that isn’t for the faint of heart.
Draymond Green asked about Rajon Rondo. "He's a competitor. I'm a competitor. It is what it is. At halftime he came up to me. (Green then paused for a moment, before continuing) I'm not a guy who repeats stuff that's said on the floor."— Scott Prather (@Scott_1420) May 2, 2018
Rajon Rondo on the verbal exchange between he and Draymond Green:"Just two guys playing with passion. That's about it."— Scott Prather (@Scott_1420) May 2, 2018
Then, during the final seconds of Game 2’s 121-116 loss, Rondo grabbed another miss by Green from the free throw line, but this time he proceeded to cover the basketball with as much of the sweat oozing out of his pores as he possibly could.
Rajon Rondo wiping his sweat all over the ball before Draymond attempted his second free throw gotta be the pettiest thing ive ever seen pic.twitter.com/AoKkBPAXJr— Rob Perez (@World_Wide_Wob) May 2, 2018
This act caught Andre Iguodala’s attention, but Green’s, not so much. However, in watching all of these events unfold, it should be clear as day that Rondo is trying to affect the level of Draymond Green’s focus — a common tactic seen among ultra-aggressive playoff competitors seeking a mental edge. Remember, shortly after the Pelicans dispensed with the Portland Trail Blazers in four games, Rondo proudly stated that he once famously attended KG university.
“I try to do a lot of the talking for myself on the court and for those guys,” said Rondo when trying to explain Jrue Holiday’s outspoken behavior during the Portland series. “I played with a lot of people. I went to KG (Kevin Garnett) University and Paul Pierce University, so trash-talking is kind of in my DNA.”
Why has Rondo seemingly gone out of his way to single out Green? The answer is two-fold. Not only does Draymond embody the toughness and persona better than any of his teammates — which makes for a natural target, but he’s the most crucial piece in Golden State’s blitzkrieg attack and strangling defensive effort.
During these 2018 playoffs, Green has been the biggest net positive on the court for the Warriors. Through seven games, they’ve been 85 points better with him on the floor than off, and his significant value has clearly been evident through the first two games of the series against the Pelicans. In Green’s 71 minutes on the court, New Orleans has averaged a mere 91.8 points per 100 possessions. During the 25 minutes he’s spent on the bench, New Orleans offense has resembled an erupting volcano, averaging 119.7 points per 100 possessions.
There’s no doubt, New Orleans is desperate to find a way to get Draymond Green off the floor.
Before the start of this series, one hoped that waves of dive-bombing Pelicans through the paint might have eventually gotten Green into foul trouble, but alas, things haven’t worked out accordingly. For instance, Anthony Davis has drawn just a single shooting foul in 65 possessions through two games against the 2017 Defensive Player of the Year, and in the process, connected on only 9 of 21 field goal attempts.
Draymond definitely deserves a lot of credit. He’s earned the respect from referees for being one of the staunchest defenders in the league over the years, and he’s parlayed that success into dominating the vast majority of minutes in all previous playoff series.
Enter Rajon Rondo’s vast array of mind games.
The seasoned point guard is fully aware of Green’s importance to the Warriors and knows the Pelicans best chance of prolonging their playoff run is to derail Golden State’s best defensive stopper and supremely gifted initiator of their potent offense. Can the master of Connect-Four figure out the seemingly impossible before New Orleans is eliminated from the 2018 postseason?