It wouldn’t be a stretch to describe D’Angelo Russell’s return to the lineup in the Lakers’ 122-112 win over the Toronto Raptors on Friday as perfect.
Russell, who missed L.A.’s previous six games with a sprained right ankle, scored 16 of his 28 points in the fourth quarter — on 5-for-5 shooting — to seal the victory, helping keep the Lakers’ momentum strong. The Lakers are now 6-2 since the All-Star break and No. 9 in the Western Conference standings with 15 games remaining. They are only 1½ games behind the LA Clippers in fifth.
“I was just flowing, honestly,” Russell said after the game, finishing 10-for-17 from the field with nine assists and five rebounds. “Obviously this is my first game back and just itching to get back on the floor, so to get back out there and perform and be back out there with those guys, they were playing at a high level, and to be able to contribute to that was just fun.
“I couldn’t help but smile.”
Russell keyed a dominant 37-22 fourth quarter by L.A. to run away with the win on a night the Lakers fell down by as many as 15 points in the first half.
“He’s just super talented,” Austin Reaves, whose 18 points contributed to a 61-12 edge for the Lakers in bench points, said of Russell. “The shots he was hitting in the fourth, it was ridiculous. You got only a handful of guys that take those shots in that situation. So, shout-out to him. Good to have him back. We’re looking to keep it rolling.”
From about the 8:00 mark in the fourth to about the 3:30 mark, Russell stroked four 3-pointers, each one growing the Lakers’ lead and throwing the crowd into a tizzy.
Several of them came during transition opportunities for the Lakers when his team had numbers and would have had the advantage getting straight to the basket, but he launched from deep instead.
“I’m just all out on this 3 that might turn this place upside down if it goes in. And I can feel the energy,” Russell said. “Making it is the reward. Missing it is a high risk, but I work on it, I trust it. It’s fun when it goes in.”
Russell’s return to the lineup also fit seamlessly with Dennis Schroder, who had been the starting point guard when Russell was out. Schroder had 23 points and seven assists off the bench.
“I thought it was great,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said of his point guards’ teamwork. “I like staggering them, honestly, one of them out there at a time. And when it calls for it, to get them out there together. And they’re both highly competitive and highly capable.”
The Lakers had five players score 16 points or more against the Raptors, none of whom was named Anthony Davis.
The star big man scored eight points on 4-for-7 shooting with nine rebounds and four blocks and was perfectly happy with the results, enjoying a postgame cake presentation and serenade from his teammates ahead of his 30th birthday Saturday.
“I think it’s a huge step in the right direction when a guy who has been putting up the type of numbers he’s been putting up … tonight we were able to come away with a win against a very good team with him only, what, eight points?” Ham said. “That’s a sign of growth, and that’s a testament to how deep and talented we are now.”