The thought process behind Rajon Rondo’s buzzer beater was straightforward.
“Just get it up,” Rondo said after hitting nothing but net on a 20-foot fadeaway that lifted the Lakers to a 129-128 victory over the Celtics Friday night. “It’s simple.”
Trailing by a point with 11.5 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, the Lakers had more than enough time to bring the ball up the court and fire off a potential game-winner. But their lack of timeouts complicated matters a bit, as forward Brandon Ingram drove to the rim and attempted an ill-advised reverse layup.
Celtics forward Al Horford deflected Ingram’s shot but couldn’t grab ahold of the ball, which proceeded to also escape the grasps of Marcus Morris and Jayson Tatum in a free-for-all battle for possession. It ended up in Rondo’s hands, where it stayed for no longer than half a second. He quickly — and effortlessly — got a shot off for the game-winning score as time expired.
“It definitely feels surreal,” Rondo said after the game. “I haven’t watched the replay yet, but this is one I’ll be playing for the rest of my life.”
Over the course of his 13-year NBA career, Rondo has attempted 11 go-ahead field goals in the final 10 seconds of the fourth quarter. Prior to Thursday night, however, he had yet to connect on any shots of such nature.
The basket holds significance beyond his first-ever game-winner, though. To have a moment like that happen on the Garden parquet? In front of president basketball of operations Danny Ainge, who drafted him; former teammate Kevin Garnett, who he now calls his “brother;” and his seven-year-old son Pierre? It’s pretty darn special.
“It’s unbelievable,” Rondo said. “Obviously, the man upstairs, I give him all the credit. I work on my craft, but at the end of the day, I couldn’t have done it without him.”
“He couldn’t have even dreamed about that moment, to be back here in the Garden, where he won a championship and obviously has so many memories of being here,” added teammate LeBron James. “For him to get his hands on the ball at that moment and be able to knock that down, it was a storybook ending.”
While Rondo acknowledged the buzzer beater and all that comes with it, he was quick to credit his teammates for their contributions, too. He shouted out sophomore forward Kyle Kuzma for drilling a clutch three-pointer to put the Lakers up, 127-126, with 19 seconds remaining and center Tyson Chandler for helping poke the ball away from Morris and Tatum on that final play.
“I made the shot, but it was definitely a team effort,” he said.
Rondo finished with 17 points on 7-for-11 shooting, 10 assists, and seven rebounds. The final outcome likely disappointed Celtics fans, but the love for Rondo was apparent throughout the game. Every member of Los Angeles’ starting lineup was booed during player introductions, except for Rondo, who received a warm welcome. The crowd, which did feature a healthy contingent of Lakers fans, also continued to show its support by cheering him on after made baskets.
As Rondo said during shootaround earlier on Thursday, Boston is “always home.”