NBA Playoffs Celtics Magic Game 2: Rajon Rondo may or may not have mastered the fine art of ninjitsu

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rondogame2.jpgI would ask that you pay very close attention to what I am about to say.

Imagine that you had just come to this planet from another world before the playoffs began. You have come on a mission to observe human culture, specifically, sporting events, specifically, professional basketball. You have no frame of reference for the past 10 years, you don’t know about championship rings, 81 point games, 49 point triple doubles, MVPs, or a history of game winning shots (God knows there are none in these playoffs to teach you). You have an understanding of the game through what you’ve learned in research.

Who is the best player in the NBA under those circumstances?

It’s Rajon Rondo.

I’m not saying anyone other than Kobe Bryant is the best player still playing in the playoffs (Kobe is). I’m not saying that Rondo is better than LeBron James (he’s not). I’m not saying that when you need a score, the one guy you want with the ball is Rajon Rondo (I will say that person is NOT Vince Carter).

But when you consider every facet of the game, no one has played better since April 15th than Rajon Rondo. We’ve seen it all, and in Game 2, even in a numbers-modest game (25 points, 8 assists, 5 rebounds, 2 steals, 2 turnovers in 45 minutes), he showcased every element.

He was the periodic table of pwnage.

The huge swinging ball fake to the behind the back pass. A twisting, turning, pop, lock and release floater over Dwight Howard. The mid-range game. The high floater off the glass. The drive and dish the dump off to the weak side cutter. The one arm stop-dribble cross-court whip for three.

Poking and prodding on defense, drawing charges, offensive rebounds, defensive rebounds. Efficient, engaged, locked-in. Rondo was the smoke monster.

We argued that Rondo might be the best player on the Celtics before the playoffs began. That question has been answered. It’s not close. Rondo answered a huge driving layup by Jameer Nelson by jetting immediately to half court, whipping past two defenders and nailing an up and under reverse to match the bucket. He was in charge the entire time, never lost his cool (like he did last year), never lost track of where he was supposed to be.

The Magic tried doubling off the pick, bringing man-help, spacing to give him the mid-range, the works. It was like they wandered into some horror flick, and Rondo spent the better part of two hours picking them off one by one with a chainsaw.

Kobe Bryant scored 40 points last night in a brilliant performance which is not to be questioned. But if you’re looking at the best overall performance from baseline to baseline, the answer has been Rajon Rondo. Especially considering Rondo was finishing to Rasheed Wallace, Glen Davis, and Tony Allen several times. Rondo has become bigger than the Big 3, the thing you need to witness, and he’s two games away from tugging on Superman’s cape, ripping it off of him and strangling him with it.

It’s a revelation, a transcendence. I’m not exaggerating here, he’s honestly been that good.

And oh, by the way?

He’s 24 years old.

Spurs honor Kobe Bryant in his last game in San Antonio (VIDEO)

LOS ANGELES - MARCH 30:  Kobe Bryant #8 of the Los Angeles Lakers stands next to Tim Duncan #21 of the San Antonio Spurs on March 30, 2006 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California.  The Spurs won 96-85. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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The Kobe Bryant farewell tour has gone all around the NBA, but some stops are more emotional than others. His final trip to San Antonio certainly qualifies — the Spurs and Lakers have played each other in the playoffs eight times in his career, including twice in the Western Conference Finals (the Lakers won both times). The only player who has rivaled Bryant’s longevity is Tim Duncan, and the Lakers and Spurs were the two most dominant teams of the 2000s, winning nine of the 12 championships from 1999 to 2010 between them.

So, of course, the Spurs had an elaborate tribute video planned for Bryant. The video ran two and a half minutes and featured narration from Gregg Popovich, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. Watch it below:

Report: Clippers’ Austin Rivers has broken hand, out 4-6 weeks

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 29:  Austin Rivers #25 of the Los Angeles Clippers scores on a layup past D'Angelo Russell #1 of the Los Angeles Lakers during a 105-93 win at Staples Center on January 29, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and condition of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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The Clippers are without Blake Griffin for the next few weeks as he recovers from a broken hand stemming from an altercation with an equipment manager. Now, the Clippers have lost backup point guard Austin Rivers to the exact same injury, albeit not in the same circumstances, obviously.

The loss of Rivers isn’t as devastating as the loss of Griffin, but given the Clippers’ lack of depth, it’s certainly not ideal. Now, Chris Paul‘s only backup is Pablo Prigioni.

Warriors hold off late Thunder run to remain undefeated at home

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For once, a marquee matchup involving the Golden State Warriors lived up to its billing. Their much-hyped meetings with the Cleveland Cavaliers and San Antonio Spurs were anticlimactic blowouts nearly free of drama. And for the first half on Saturday night’s 116-108 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder, it seemed like the defending champions were headed for another snoozer. They led by as much as 20, and completely outmatched the Thunder on both ends of the floor.

But the Thunder rallied behind a surprising defensive effort in the second half and some solid play from Enes Kanter. Plus, you know, Kevin Durant, who led all scorers with 40 points and gave the normally unflappable Draymond Green fits defensively. They tied the game at 104 before Golden State pulled away.

Despite the huge first-half lead, the Warriors weren’t their usual selves. Stephen Curry shot 1-for-8 from behind the three-point line, and triple-double machine Draymond Green scored just nine points. Golden State’s most consistent player was Harrison Barnes, who has probably read the speculation that the Warriors would have to dump him to land Durant this summer. He hit three three-pointers and shot 8-for-14 overall on the way to 19 points.

The Warriors’ bench carried them for stretches, outscoring Oklahoma City’s reserves 42-17.

Despite the Thunder’s late run, this was a statement win for the Warriors. They sent the message that, even when they aren’t in total control from start to finish, they can still pull away from other elite teams. The Thunder have given them the toughest challenge of any team they’ll likely have to face in the late rounds of the playoffs this spring, and it’s to their credit that they took the first-half punch and came back to make it a game. But the Warriors are on a different level from the rest of the league, and they showed that clearly on Saturday.

Kevin Durant brushes off free-agency speculation: “Once that time comes, I’ll make that decision”

OAKLAND, CA - JANUARY 05:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder drives on Harrison Barnes #40 of the Golden State Warriors at ORACLE Arena on January 5, 2015 in Oakland, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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It goes without saying that with the Thunder and Warriors playing each other for the first time on Saturday night, Kevin Durant free-agency talk has been at an all-time high. The hot rumor this week is that the Warriors are the frontrunners to land Durant this summer, which would shake up the league like nothing since LeBron James going to Miami.

Obviously, all parties were going to be asked about it before the hotly anticipated game. And obviously, all parties were going to downplay it. That’s exactly what happened.

Here’s what Durant said, via the San Francisco Chronicle‘s Rusty Simmons:

“Once that time comes, I’ll make that decision. I’ll sit down and talk to my closest friends and family and figure it out, but right now, I’m just trying to be the best basketball player I can be every single day. I have to be at a high level to lead every day at practices, shootarounds and games, and that’s a tough task. I can’t focus on anything else, other than that.”

Warriors coach Steve Kerr also downplayed the speculation:

“I don’t know why anybody would talk about anything but the fact that we’re 45-4 and have a hell of a team,” said Kerr, who hasn’t addressed rumors about Durant favoring the Bay Area as a future destination with his players. “Why would anybody talk about some different team, future stuff and other players?

“Focus on our team. We’re pretty good.”

On both sides, that’s the appropriate way to respond publicly. Not that this is going to go away anytime soon. They play each other two more times this season, once in Oklahoma City and once more in Oakland, and this is going to get brought up then, too. And just like Saturday, nobody will give a definitive answer. Nor should they. Nobody will know anything until July 1. But until then, it will be impossible to quiet the chatter.