'Felt like home' for Rajon Rondo in triumphant return to Dallas

DALLAS -- “Rondo sucks! Rondo sucks!” the crowd in the American Airlines Center chanted in the final minute of the Sacramento Kings' first victory in Dallas since 2003.

Rajon Rondo, the brash point guard who heard boos all Thursday night because his brief stint with the Dallas Mavericks last season was such a disaster, responded simply by smirking.

The venom from the Dallas crowd didn’t bother Rondo, who stuffed the box score with 18 points, 12 assists, five rebounds and three steals during his triumphant return to Dallas. The PG-13 language certainly didn’t, either.

“It felt like home,” Rondo said during his postgame interview with the Kings’ local television broadcast after Sacramento snapped a 22-game road losing streak against the Mavs with a 104-101 victory. “Not the boos, but other than that, it’s a great court to play on. And it’s definitely a great place to get a mother ... ,” Rondo added, catching himself, “get a win.”

The Dallas fans finally saw the version of Rondo they had hoped they were getting when owner Mark Cuban pulled the trigger on a blockbuster trade to acquire him in the middle of last season, despite coach Rick Carlisle’s warning that the four-time All-Star point guard was a poor fit for the Mavs’ roster and offensive system.

The Rondo experiment infamously blew up in the Mavs’ faces. Carlisle’s fears about Rondo's fit were realized, and he butted heads with Rondo as Dallas’ previously beautiful offense bogged down with the ball-dominant, shooting-challenged point guard running it.

The relationship ended prematurely in unprecedented fashion after Carlisle benched Rondo less than a minute into the second half of Game 2 in the first round of the playoffs against the Houston Rockets. The parties essentially agreed to part ways the next day, with the Mavs issuing a press release stating that Rondo left the team due to a back injury. Team sources later acknowledged to ESPN.com that the injury was a fictional attempt to save face, but Rondo continues to insist he really was hurt.

Rondo didn’t play during the Kings’ previous trip to Dallas. The Mavs won on a Deron Williams buzzer-beater right in front of the Sacramento bench -- where Rondo sat out with a back injury. Oh, the irony.

Rondo played on Thursday night despite toe and ankle injuries. Sacramento coach George Karl said the Kings’ “focus had an anger to it” that might have been attributed to Rondo, who had his fingerprints all over a win that he refused to admit was personally satisfying due to the location.

“It feels better to get off our losing streak,” Rondo said in the locker room as the explicit lyrics of Luke Nasty’s “Might Be” blared from his portable speakers. “We lost four in a row. Good to get a win.”

It was an awful way for Rondo’s former team to wrap up a six-game homestand that represented the softest stretch of Dallas’ schedule.

The Mavs -- who had lost six of eight games prior to their long stay at home -- seemed to create some momentum by going 4-1 in the first five games of the homestand and recording their four highest-scoring games of the season in the victories over lottery-bound competition. There was every reason to expect that the Mavs’ offense would keep rolling against the Kings, who are out of playoff contention and allow the most points in the NBA -- and playing the second game of a back-to-back.

But this was an ill-timed dud for Dallas, which slipped back into a tie with the Portland Trail Blazers for sixth in the West standings, four games behind the Memphis Grizzlies team that beat the Kings on Wednesday night.

“This is a team that we should beat,” said Dallas forward Chandler Parsons, whose 28-point, nine-rebound, five-assist performance went to waste. “We’re playing for something much bigger than they are. This is the kind of loss that bites you in the butt that you wish you could have back in a couple of weeks.”

The Mavs rallied from a 14-point deficit with 5:04 remaining and would have had a chance to send the game into overtime if they could have simply rebounded a missed free throw with 10.1 seconds remaining. However, Rondo hit the floor to keep the Mavs from grabbing the loose ball, a hustle play that was a stark contrast to the inexplicable eight-second violation he got when he lazily walked the ball up the floor the final time he wore a Dallas uniform.

That moment was surely in the minds of some of the Mavs fans who booed Rondo when his name was called during pregame introductions and repeatedly when he touched the ball throughout the game. The rude welcome back to Dallas didn’t hurt Rondo’s feelings.

“These fans are great. Fans are amazing,” Rondo deadpanned.

Parsons offer his take on Rondo.

“He’s a big-game player,” Parsons said. “You’ve got to figure he was ready for this kind of environment.”

Rondo sure was ready. He hasn’t hurt the Mavs this much since he played for them in the playoffs.

It was certainly no surprise to see Rondo distribute like he did. After all, he leads the NBA in assists with 12.1 per game during his bounce-back season after settling for a one-year deal with Sacramento in free agency.

But Rondo, who has often looked allergic to attacking the basket in recent years, did a lot of damage in the paint too. All eight of his buckets came off of layups, several from jet cuts to the basket when DeMarcus Cousins had the ball in the post. And Rondo played with an intensity on the defensive end that he usually lacks, an issue that has led to friction between Rondo and Karl.

“He was fantastic,” said Cousins, who had 22 points, 13 rebounds and five assists. “He led tonight. He was extremely vocal getting guys to their spots. He was in a couple tough switch situations and held his own. He had a great all-around effort tonight.”

Much to the chagrin of Mavs fans who were repulsed by Rondo’s lack of effort during his disastrous stint in Dallas.