Even if D’Angelo Russell didn’t know at that moment that his quick-strike basket would be one of the catalysts for the Lakers in the fourth quarter, he had to sense that something was needed in Game 4.
The Lakers were reeling, down seven points in the fourth, their offense nonexistent, the home-court advantage they had snatched away from the Grizzlies by winning Game 1 in Memphis in jeopardy, the series on the verge of being tied.
Into the void stepped Russell, delivering three consecutive three-pointers, turning the momentum back in favor of the Lakers, allowing LeBron James to recalibrate before bringing the Lakers home in front of a raucous crowd at Crypto.com Arena on Monday night.
Those three big threes by Russell were telling clutch in helping them pull out a 117-111 overtime win over the Grizzlies to give the Lakers a 3-1 advantage in the best-of-seven first-round playoff series.
“I was free-flowing, honestly,” Russell said late Monday night in front of his locker. “I think it just kind of happened, being in the right place at the right time, getting the opportunity to make something happen. Take advantage of it, simple as that.”
Russell finished the night with 17 points on seven-for-15 shooting from the field, including three for eight from three-point range.
The Lakerstrailed 97-90 after Desmond Bane drilled a three-pointer with 5:04 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Then Russell stepped up big time for the Lakers.
He rattled in a three-pointer off a pass from Austin Reaves.
He then knocked in a high-arcing three-pointer over Jaren Jackson Jr. off a pass from Anthony Davis.
The Grizzlies called a timeout, allowing Russell to take a bow, his hands motioning to the crowd.
He wasn’t done.
Russell’s third consecutive three-pointer gave the Lakers a 99-97 lead.
After the game, Russell said it was impossible to know what his thoughts were while making three after three after three.
“It’s hard to answer what was going through my head,” Russell said. “But honestly, I just try to take what the game was giving me. Every game is different. Being in a position where you can score or pass. Just take what the game is giving me. Tonight, I kind of made some shots when it mattered. And, that’s what we are talking about now. But I try to do whatever it takes.”
Russell fouled out with 1:45 left in the fourth, but he had left an impression on his team for his willingness to take big shots.
This was huge for Russell because he had not been a factor in the first two games, shooting 33.3% from the field, 28.6% from three-point range.
“I have to give a huge shout-out to D’Angelo Russell,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. “I mean, we were flailing at best offensively and he was able to catch fire and, man, he put us on our back offensively and put us in a position to have a chance to close the gap, eclipse it and walk away with the win. If D-Lo doesn’t play the way he played we don’t win this game.”
This is Russell’s second go-around with the Lakers. He had been drafted by them with the second overall pick in 2015.
The relationship turned rocky between Russell and the Lakers before he was traded to the Brooklyn Nets in the summer of 2017.
Russell went from the Nets to the Golden State Warriors to the Minnesota Timberwolves.
He found his way back to Los Angeles when the Lakers acquired Russell from the Timberwolves on Feb. 9.
Now he’s being asked to play his role, to be the point guard and provide some outside shooting.
“I’m a Laker fan, honestly,” Russell said. “I tell my people that. I’ve never been a team fan because you’re actually in it. But to enter the storm and to be here again and some of the things I’ve witnessed, I can say it’s fair to say that I’m a fan. But it’s good. I’m treating it really with open arms. They’ve welcomed me since I’ve been here. It’s been a good feeling.”