SACRAMENTO -- In front of a national television audience on Thursday night, Rajon Rondo showed that the numbers he’s putting up in Sacramento are no fluke. He nearly finished with his fifth triple-double of the season, dropping in 16 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds, and the Kings outlasted New York, 99-97.
We are now 24 games into the season, and Kings fans have become accustomed to at least one spectacular play from Rondo each night. As he becomes more comfortable with his teammates, you can see his creativity creeping into his play.
On Tuesday night against the Utah Jazz, it was an incredible behind-the-back dribble followed by a laser to Rudy Gay for a monster dunk. Early in Thursday night’s game against the Knicks, Rondo snared a rebound and as he fell to the floor he hit Omri Casspi with a perfect 60-foot pass for a dunk. It was highlight reel material without a doubt.
Rondo tormented the Knicks for most of the night, but with a little under three minutes remaining in the game, he did something new and exciting that fans in Sacramento have not seen.
The 29-year-old guard tried to feed DeMarcus Cousins in the post and when he couldn’t get him the ball, Rondo slashed baseline and threw down a thunderous dunk with one hand. The Kings bench went nuts. Quincy Acy even pretended to faint.
“It was good to see him turn back the clock a little bit,” Acy told CSNCalifornia.com. “That was good. I give him a 10-out-of-10 on it because it was in traffic at the end of the game too.”
In vintage Acy fashion, Rondo hung on the rim for a second while taking in the view from 10-feet in the air.
“That’s why I approve of it,” Acy said. “The nastiness of it, I approve of that.”
“It surprised me, yeah,” coach George Karl said. “There’s no question that that was a golden moment for him, kind of announcement that he is healthy, and that he is back.”
Following the game, Rondo said it was his first dunk in three seasons. He later clarified that he was exaggerating and that he may have even had a throwdown in Dallas last season.
“I was just trying to finish the play,” a humble Rondo said.
“I’ve been lifting, and I’ve been working on my body a lot,” Rondo added. “I’m not old, I just don’t dunk. I’m only 6-feet.”
Either way, his teammates were impressed with his athleticism and strength. Cousins even took some of the credit for clearing a path to the rim for his point guard.
“I think I deserve a lot of credit for that because I got him open,” Cousins said with a laugh. “Besides Steph (Curry), I can’t name a point guard playing better basketball than him right now. He deserves everything that’s coming for him.”
There are very few players in the league that have an ability to control an NBA game like Rondo. He is a grand orchestrator and his teammates love to play alongside him.
“I think Rondo in general is a pretty good player, what do you think?,” Casspi said. “He’s fun to play with.”
With every stellar outing, Rondo is watching his value increase. So far his one-year deal in Sacramento is looking like pure genius.
Casspi and Gay came into the game knowing they would have an incredibly difficult task on the defensive side of the ball. Casspi had to face off with 7-foot-3 Latvian phenom Kristaps Porzingis, while Gay drew an old friend in Carmelo Anthony.
Casspi kept the 20-year-old big in check for most of the night, limiting him to just 13 points on 4-for-11 shooting. His lone 3-point make came in the second quarter with Casspi on the bench.
“He’s so tall,” Casspi said. “He’s a good player. He still needs to learn the game- the ins and outs of the NBA season.”
On the offensive side of the ball, Casspi drew the his man away from the basket and then attacked. Casspi finished the game with 11 points, eight rebounds and three assists.
Gay gave Anthony everything he could handle on the defensive side, holding Melo to 23 points on 8-for-21 shooting. Anthony grabbed 14 rebounds and handed out four assists, but Gay helped force his counterpart into five huge turnovers on the night.
“I think Rudy and Omri in the last 10 days have started to tune their defense - we need it,” Karl said.
Once again the Kings held a huge lead in a game and allowed the opponent to crawl back in. Sacramento led by as many as 19 in the third quarter and easily could have lost this game after a series of inexcusable mistakes down the stretch.
New York outscored the Kings 32-23 in the fourth quarter, despite Sacramento shooting 50 percent from the field. In front of their home crowd, the Kings turned the ball over eight times in the final frame, including two each by Rondo, Cousins and Gay.
The Kings need to find a way to put teams away. Really, it’s that simple.
Cousins looks like he is regaining his form. With two injuries behind him, the 25-year-old star finally had lift in his legs Thursday night, resulting in 27 points and 11 rebounds.
If the Kings can stay healthy, they may have a chance to climb up the Western Conference rankings over the next few weeks. But it all starts with Cousins.