The Jazz beat the Rockets, the Raptors let an unforgivable one slip away, the Celtics did something or other, but the most important thing in the second-round thus far is Draymond Green and Rajon Rondo squaring off like a pair of veteran samurai chomping at the bit to draw their swords. It was a game-recognize-game standoff for the ages, at least for the few seconds it lasted. 

Guys jawing at each other, chest-to-chest, histrionic spittle sprays, all this is normal, routine, often boring. It happens, and the scrum tends to be dissolved by referees whose expressions seem to say say “They don’t pay me enough for this crap!” and anxious, helpful teammates and finally, a flurry of assistant coaches. It’s part of the dance, not like, the important part, but a part nonetheless. But sometimes, you get something that approximates actual violence, even if a punch is never close to being thrown. Such was the case during Game 2 of the Golden State-New Orleans tilt. You could almost hear Carmina Burana or some other sweeping epic symphonic nonsense about knights or whatever start playing as Draymond and Rajon came together, magnetically drawn to each other as particular malcontents, hissing galaxy brain vitriol at one another. Draymond yaps into Rondo’s nose, Rondo yaps right back into Draymond’s neck. Later, Rondo would wipe his sweaty face on the ball moments before Draymond was to shoot a free-throw. It was all a stunning, but appropriate bickering union of two cosmically linked troublemakers, a couple of absolute rogues who happen to be careening down perpendicular choleric career paths. Seeing them together, crossing proverbial swords for the first time in the postseason, feels right. It feels like the two scumbag uncles that live in your basement are finally having it out with another, once and for all.

But they’re not just being dickheads for the sake of being dickheads. Rondo and Draymond are teaching us the dignity of pride and egotism. The virtue of playing with an edge. This is the particular beauty of two men who know in their hearts they’ve never been wrong locking horns in public. It’s of course, a sideshow of the actual battle, which is some mid-round purgatory basketball thing. Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday...these people do not matter. They’re workers. They shoot, pass, rebound, drink some Gatorade, and then they go home. Rajon and Draymond are different. They’re scientists and warlords. They hunger for vindication the way Galactus hungers for planets. I mean, Rondo once reacted to a Connect Four loss to a child with the following words: "But did you notice I played the guy {child} five more times and won them all? I had to show him, ‘You beat me, I’ll beat the shit out of you.’”

This battle between Rondo and Draymond is less David vs. Goliath and more Wario vs. Waluigi, or, if you are a normal person and sick of tired Waluigi jokes, perhaps more Grendel vs. Smerdyakov. It’s not the main thing, but perhaps it is more intense than the marquee bout. A film within a film. Righteousness and evil are thrown into a blender and somehow these knuckleheads two pop out. And yet Rondo is too cerebral and inquisitive to be a straight-up knucklehead, and while Draymond plays knucklehead to the hilt, it doesn’t come close to properly summarizing him. He’s a Klaus Kinski type, but Steve Kerr is far more Steven Spielberg than Werner Herzog. All this to say, they’re both complicated and thank God for that.

Rondo is a floor general relic of a bygone era, while Draymond is a singular tweener monster not likely to ever be duplicated, but the cosmic similarities between these two seem obvious. Leaving aside the fact they both remember every single person who has ever wronged them, they’ve both been constantly underrated and overrated. They’ve both been discounted, laughed at, left for dead. They’re lightning rods for shallow emotional criticism. They’re the same guy, only at different stages of evolution, the only difference being, Draymond still believes in the idea of laughter. Rondo won a championship his second year; Green won one in his third. They both lost their next Finals tilts in painfully close Game 7s. Neither of them would be accused of taking shit from anyone. They don’t play particularly well with authority figures. They’re candid to a fault, whether it is Draymond saying literally anything that flits through his mind or Rondo ripping Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler on Instagram for shoddy veteran leadership, effectively making Wade and Butler look like entitled assholes yelling at a bunch of dopey kids for their own failures.

They are unconventional to the extreme, B-side maestros that made themselves essential by virtue of their obstinance, tenacity, and will. They are prestige cable drama anti-heroes, hideously flawed but compelling enough to draw massive ratings. Rondo, the bleak Druid with his massive magical hands and his Game Theory approach to undermining his enemies; Green the grinning erudite brute with his Arya Stark-like dedication to absolute and all-encompassing vengeance. They are thoughtful scoundrels that have the ability to elevate or sabotage everything they touch. Both are visibly wracked by demons. Draymond’s demons are accessible, inviting, gregarious even. Rondo’s demons are more traditional. You look in his eyes and you see a man who has seen the light yield to inevitability. Draymond’s journey feels like it hasn’t yet reached the midpoint, but Rondo’s is much closer to the end than to the beginning. What’s interesting is, there’s no maturity per se that he’s grown into this past decade. He is basically the same player he was ten years ago. Rondo was always an old soul. He was always a bit too smart and clearly aloof and brimming with dread and angst and the urge to unleash his preternatural cleverness against yet another batch of normies. Draymond can laugh, and does. After all, laughter is just another one of his weapons, just ask one of Rondo’s old friends, Paul Pierce.  

But even when Rondo was Rondo, there was never much joy. Draymond exudes joy. It’s his axe and his hammer. Rondo didn’t have time for joy besides the occasional grin or trip to the roller-rink. Mostly there was just on-court rage and the ferocious urge to outsmart his enemies, and sometimes his allies. He was tricky, and he was smooth, the way that fourth shot of whiskey can be smooth, but then you are vomiting in the alley or mounting a rebellion against your coach and then the world is spinning and it no longer hinges on the same truths. Suddenly, the pass-first broken jumpshot halfcourt floor general control freak is as in demand as cursive and polio.

Rondo’s game is predicated on that particular cleverness: memorizing the other team’s playbook, emasculating steals, too-fancy no-look passes, while Draymond’s game finds delight in brutally extinguishing cleverness, tearing up your audacious counterstrike and pissing on your accomplishments before your eyes, wrestling you back down to Earth and pinning you there, exposing your flaws, all the while laughing and talking shit and having a good ol’ time at your expense. This may be our first and last opportunity to see witness the weird and often obtuse chess match between these deranged intellectual heavyweights. Because honestly, how much longer will we get these sporadic, somehow both surprising and irritatingly predictable detonations from Playoff Rondo?

After a disastrous stint in Dallas, a tense and disappointing season in Sacramento, followed by sort of throwing his teammates under the bus situation in Chicago (which happily ended with the triumphant return of Playoff Rondo), life in New Orleans has seemed to be a comparative paradise. It’s been a very long time since the Ubuntu Celtics. Rondo’s been bouncing around like a bad-tempered journeyman ever since. He’s wasn’t quite a punchline, but he’s wasn’t not a punchline. In the meantime, Draymond, a lowly second-round pick, made a name for himself as the beating heart of the NBA’s newest and loudest dynasty. But is Rondo’s limping, episodic journey the blueprint Draymond has to look forward to? Is this his future? Obviously Green has yet to be cast into the wilderness; he still knows stability, still knows he’s “loved” and “respected” and “counted on.”

But one has to wonder, how much more punishment Draymond’s strong but ultimately dumpy and undersized frame can take against the leviathans of the league, and if things start to go slightly wrong in Golden State, if the salaries become untenable or the egos flare up or the failure to win a championship every single year gets to be too much...Will he leave the Bay for the Central Division and get that massive pay day and limp along on reputation until he too is the butt of a joke? A woeful has been whose genius is no longer relevant? Will he be a ghost of what he once was, like the Chicago Bulls/Cleveland Cavaliers version of Ben Wallace?  And if so, will he get a chance at redemption, like Rajon Rondo keeps continuously stumbling upon? 

The important thing is that Draymond and Rondo had that moment. These are not men the casual fan would rush to embrace, and we haven’t even addressed Draymond’s penchant for reflexively busting dudes in the groin or Rondo’s homophobic slur or throwing temper tantrums and quitting on his teammates and Rick Carlisle. These two are massively messed up in a lot of ways, but also, two of the smartest, most impressive basketball players of the last decade, and now they’re finally going at each other, red tooth and claw. The Warriors are up 2-0, but it could very easily be 1-1., and the Pelicans play well at home and Rondo has probably watched the film of Game 2 69 times by now. To be fair, Draymond probably has too. Game 3 will be one for the ages, no matter the final score. These are the guys that are going to do the little things that carry the day. After all, they are here now, because they dragged themselves to this point, bullheaded defective savants leading their superstars to water and forcing them to drink. We should appreciate this, before it is gone and all there is to care about is whether LeBron James will lose in the Finals for the sixth time.