D’Angelo Russell downplayed the matchup against his former Los Angeles Lakers in leading the Brooklyn Nets to a 115-110 win Tuesday at Barclays Center.
But his coach and teammates could understand if his impressive individual performance was fueled by the past.
“When you play your former team, you wanna kick their tail,” Kenny Atkinson told reporters after the game while downplaying the personal nature of the matchup for his centerpiece guard.
Russell was traded to Brooklyn in June 2017, two years after the Lakers used the No. 2 overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft to select him. In his third career game against his former team Tuesday, he posted 22 points — including a 3-pointer that essentially put the game away — and tied a career high by dishing out 13 assists in securing his first win over the team that shipped him east, alongside Timofey Mozgov, in exchange for Brook Lopez and Kyle Kuzma.
Nets teammate Jared Dudley, who scored 13 points in the victory, suspected facing the visiting Lakers factored into Russell’s play.
“I hope so,” said Dudley postgame. “He came out, and he definitely performed.”
Russell himself downplayed the matchup, saying only of his game-sealing shot that “it gave us a better opportunity to win in the situation.”
The 22-year-old, whose scoring (18.1 ppg) and assists (6.3 apg) averages and 3-point shooting (37 percent) this season are career bests, drew praise from Lakers coach Luke Walton after leading the Nets over his team.
“[D’Angelo] hurt us,” said Walton, who coached Russell for one season in Los Angeles. “He’s a talented player, and we know that. When we forced him right and we were up shocking the ball, I thought we did a pretty good job on him. When we let him dance and get to his left, he hurt us. He had a big-time game tonight.”
In comments before the game, Walton also praised Russell for his development since arriving in Brooklyn 18 months ago.
“He’s a very talented player,” Walton said. “Watching him the last few games, like most young players that work hard, their skills get better. They get more consistent. He’s scoring the ball. His midrange game is really hard to stop. He’s tough. He can go both directions. I’m happy for him to see that progress still happening.”