Calm and quick, all at once.
It’s how D’Angelo Russell can move with the basketball in his hands, slickly navigating defenses with patience before darting to the spot he wants to get to.
It’s a deceptive speed, things happening faster than you’d expect.
That’s sort of how the game played out in Russell’s return, quick, devastating spurts that took the direction of the game and sharply turned it.
And the Lakers point guard was behind the wheel, whipping it toward L.A.
Russell was in the middle of the biggest runs, hitting transition threes and dishing assists as the game swung wildly to the Lakers during the second and fourth quarters.
He made five threes and scored 28 points to lead the Lakers to a 122-112 win in a game they trailed by at least 12 in each half.
“That’s why he’s here,” coach Darvin Ham said.
Five Lakers scored in double figures, the team withstanding big games from Scottie Barnes (32 points) and O.G. Anunoby (31 points on 12-for-14 shooting).
Anthony Davis took just seven shots and scored only eight points with the Raptors defense hounding him. He swished a jumper with 46.6 seconds left to seal the Lakers’ third-straight win.
“It just shows the character that he has,” Austin Reaves said. “He was as happy as tonight winning scoring eight points as he was after scoring 39.”
The Lakers’ depth dominated, Wenyen Gabriel finishing with a plus-19. It was the lowest plus-minus of any bench player who played for the Lakers on Friday night.
The Lakers made all 19 of their free throws and they allowed just 22 fourth-quarter points, but it was Russell’s return that fueled them.
“His size, his skill set, his brain,” Ham said pregame when asked about what Russell brings to the floor. “I just think he’s a really talented, smart basketball player and you have to account for him. He’s a smart defensive player as well, so he’s just another added piece that we’re truly, truly excited about, and the people got a taste of what he brings early. Coming off of injury is great timing with LeBron’s circumstances. But we’re looking forward to that great addition and expecting him to be a bit of a spark plug for us.”
After a slow start with the Lakers quickly falling behind by 15, Russell led the Lakers on a 21-5 run in the second quarter, showing why the team valued him at the trade deadline.
His return also energized Dennis Schroder, who moved to the bench and was able to give more while being asked less, another playmaker and ballhandler back on the floor.
Without Russell, Schroder’s offense took a serious hit, the wear-and-tear of running the offense visibly wearing him down.
But Friday, he played with more pace and burst, something Ham said pregame he expected to see.
“It’s tough when you’re the only traditional point guard in the lineup,” Ham said. “Having [Russell] come out there and Dennis being able to see that initial wave and automatically know when he checks into the game what we need to do, what needs to be fixed or what needs to be sustained, it’s definitely a good luxury to have with [Russell] now being back in the lineup. Just that one-two punch. So when he sits down. we’ve got another orchestrator to come in and keep us organized and set a tone.”
Schroder was the fastest to loose balls, grabbing four steals while he scored 23.
“That energy trickles down to everyone else,” Reaves said.
And with the Lakers’ offense stuck in neutral against Toronto’s size and strength in the third, Reaves kept them just close enough. He ignited the crowd later in the half, driving through the middle of the court for a two-handed slam.
“We gave a really good effort,” Reaves said. “…We had to make a couple adjustments and just play harder.”
The Lakers went on a 32-11 run stretching between the third and the fourth to flip the game one final time.
“We always say ‘Don’t get discouraged. Get more competitive,’” Ham said.