A point guard is a luxury.
The New Orleans Pelicans learned the difference over the span of one weekend, as life with and without Rajon Rondo proved to be vastly different experiences.
The veteran distributor dashed, dished and delivered the Pelicans a 131-122 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday. It was an aspect New Orleans missed dearly in a fourth-quarter collapse to Sacramento on Friday.
Sunday’s finish was a complete flip, as Rondo dished six of his 18 assists in the period, pushing the Pelicans to a franchise-record 44-fourth quarter points, completing a comeback win of their won.
It was the most assists generated by any player in the NBA this season, and Rondo added five steals and 13 points on seven shots to boot.
“He was huge,” Jrue Holiday said. “I don’t think people give him the credit of him pushing the pace and how he controls the game, especially down the stretch, to be able to get everybody a good shot and whoever he wants to get a good shot. Again, my points are to him and right when he came back in everything changed for me.”
Rondo’s backcourt partner unleashed a tirade in the final period, helping turn an eight-point deficit into a nine-point lead in less than six minutes. Holiday snapped off 19 of his game-best 34 points in the quarter alone, including a five 3-pointers igniting a once-dormant home crowd.
Holiday poured in shots from nearly every spot, including an admittedly “heat-check” 3 from the corner, which included three dribbles backward and put Pelicans in the driver’s seat down the stretch.
“Jrue got hot,” DeMarcus Cousins said. “Jrue separated the game.”
It allowed the Pelicans to escape with a badly needed home win, despite a sleepy third-quarter effort. Philadelphia dominated the offensive glass to win the third by 19 points, taking all of the momentum into the final period and sending reverberations of doubt through the social media sphere.
But, Rondo, Holiday and Anthony Davis helped create a total sea change at the end.
Davis controlled the glass, snaring four key defensive rebounds and a block in addition to nine points, while Holiday and Rondo combined on a torrid offensive sequence, overwhelming the once-preening 76ers.
The cannon blasts came via the 3-point line, where New Orleans made a season-best 63 percent from beyond the arc, burying a remarkable 15-of-24 attempts, including 8-of-10 in the fourth. It pushed the Pelicans to their best offensive output of the season, a tally even more impressive considering its shoddy third quarter performance.
In fact, the Pelicans were so hot, Cousins, who was on the bench due to foul trouble, declined to re-enter the game, preferring to let his teammates maintain their chemistry.
“At that moment in the game we kind of were going on a run,” Cousins said. “So, I said, ‘coach, just let them roll’. Then he said to go get Dante (Cunningham) and I said, ‘let them roll’ and we went out and got the lead and added to it. They did a great job of pushing the pace and pushing the lead.”
Sunday’s matchup was supposed to feature three of the league’s most talented big men, with All-Star veterans Davis and Cousins squaring off against the sensational Joel Embiid.
However, after participating a full pregame routine, Embiid was a late scratch due to lingering back tightness, a change expected to give the Pelicans an edge inside.
Yet, Philadelphia controlled the paint for the first three quarters, pulling down 21 offensive rebounds for 20 second chance points in the first three periods, despite a significant length disadvantage. It was more offensive rebounds than the Pelicans had allowed in a whole game this season, and propelled the 76ers to a 95-87 lead.
And in the fourth quarter, the Pelicans closed off the 76ers second-chance opportunities and put on a show from the perimeter, lifting themselves to a crucial victory, climbing above .500 before tangling with the red-hot Houston Rockets on Monday night.
“I definitely do think I have a groove, especially with (Rondo),” Holiday said. “People tell me to shoot the ball and they tell me shoot more, especially him. So, just the confidence from him to trust in me to go out and score, that’s really big.”