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HomeSportsBasketballD'Angelo Russell shakes off slow start to give Lakers boost

D’Angelo Russell shakes off slow start to give Lakers boost

D’Angelo Russell dribbled up the court and took the Lakers’ first shot of Game 1 of the first-round playoff series against the Memphis Grizzlies.

Clang went his three-pointer.

Russell dribbled up the court again and took the Lakers’ second shot of the game Sunday at the FedExForum.

Clang went his three-pointer.

By the end of the first quarter, Russell had shot one for five from the field and zero for two from three-point range.

But Russell shook all that off, staying poised and confident, still shooting when the ball came his way, hitting them with regularity after his poor start.

He would go on to shoot six for 12 from the field after the first quarter, three for seven from three-point range.

Russell was not going to shy away from the moment because that’s not who he is.

He finished the game with 19 points on seven-for-17 shooting, three for nine on three-pointers, and his confidence was as high as ever.

“That’s what I do. I’m a shot-maker, man,” Russell said. “I thought we had good looks. A few of us was missing them — me, was particularly missing them early. I was trying to make passes to make the game easier for other guys. Then eventually I saw one go in and that was kind of what I needed. I got a few to go in.”

How Russell responded was going to be crucial to the Lakers’ success against the talented and athletic Grizzlies.

In his last game against the Minnesota Timberwolves at Arena last week, Russell was not proficient with his shooting, missing eight of his nine shots and both of his three-pointers in the NBA’s play-in game.

Lakers coach Darvin Ham said he consoled his point guard and encouraged Russell to stay the course.

“I just told him to be assertive,” Ham said Sunday. “Don’t defer. Stop deferring. If I call a set and you’re supposed to handle, handle the ball. He’s another one. He wants to play the right way. He’s trying to see how he can best fit in. Sometimes you’ve just got to go out there and hoop.

“I thought tonight he was a lot more aggressive. He came out and missed the first couple of shots and I looked at him and I told him, ‘I want those same shots. Stay aggressive.’ He nodded his head and I thought he was great for us tonight. He was huge, hit some huge threes when we needed them. I expect him to continue forward in the same fashion.”

Russell is more than aware of what’s at stake and what is needed from him.

“You play a bad game in a big game that really matters, you can’t be too low,” Russell said. “So, you go refresh and prepare for the next one, [that] was kind of my mentality.”

Russell started cooking in the second quarter, his confidence growing with each make. He was three-for-five shooting from the field, two for three from three-point range, in the quarter.

“Just reading the game, honestly,” Russell said. “At this time of the year, you got to take what the game is giving you. If you’re not making shots or doing what you need, you kind of have a feel for what else you can do to impact winning. For me, it was kind of get guys involved until the shots started falling for me. We got guys that are capable of making those shots and making a play after they receive the ball.”

The seven assists were a sign of how well Russell performed. He finished the game with a plus-20 rating and praise from his teammates.

“Obviously, tonight he was big. He had 19 points, seven assists,” said Austin Reaves, who also was big with 23 points and four assists. “Like I said, he’s really good. And it’s not always about what you see on here [the stat sheet]. It’s other stuff too. The locker room. Him instilling confidence in me and the rest of the guys as well.”

Russell was one of the five Lakers who scored 19 points or more in the game.

That went a long way in the Lakers snatching the home-court advantage away from the Grizzlies and taking a 1-0 lead in the series that continues here with Game 2 on Wednesday night.

“It’s the playoffs. It’s the playoffs,” Russell said. “Anybody can make a bunch of shots. Anybody can get going. If you don’t know about them, you will hear about them. Everybody is watching. So, guys are built for it and take advantage of those minutes.”

Lakers guard D’Angelo Russell defends Grizzlies guard Tyus Jones during Game 1 Sunday.

(Brandon Dill / Associated Press)

Just before Russell got ready to take his shower, he was asked about his defense in the game.

He had been assigned to guard Dillon Brooks, and Russell had been solid.

Russell looked over at Jarred Vanderbilt, the Lakers’ top wing defender, and asked his teammate if he heard the question about defense.

“You saw me, right? You saw me?” an excited Russell said. “That’s all that matters. People around me see it. I can’t control outside of that. Honestly, if I put my mind to it, I feel like I’m capable.”

This story originally appeared on LA Times

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