Russell points way to Nets’ first road win
Leads fourth-quarter charge as Brooklyn grinds to victory in Phoenix
D’Angelo Russell came to Brooklyn to demonstrate his leadership skills, an aspect of his game that was questioned by none other than Lakers team President Magic Johnson on the 21-year-old point guard’s way out of Los Angeles.
Russell showed off his ability to take over a game and catapult his teammates to victory Monday night in Phoenix, helping the Nets post their first road win of the season, 98-92, over the Suns in front of 15,905 fans at Talking Stick Resort Arena.
”Just didn’t want to lose and tried to do whatever it took to win,” Russell said after scoring 12 of his team-high 23 points during a decisive fourth-quarter run that helped the Nets end a season-high four-game losing streak.
”Everybody came through as a collective unit and did what they were supposed to do.”
None more so than Russell, who was dealt to Brooklyn this past summer in the trade that sent Nets’ all-time leading scorer Brook Lopez to La-La Land.
The dynamic point guard had his share of issues within the Lakers’ organization, but insisted he was ready for a fresh start and a leading role with the Nets despite Johnson’s declaration that the Lakers were looking for a more reliable front man when they traded him and drafted Lonzo Ball in the NBA Draft back in June.
Russell, who also grabbed six rebounds, handed out eight assists and picked up a pair of steals Monday night, made sure Brooklyn would not fall to 0-5 on the road this season by assuming command down the stretch.
After Jared Dudley converted a lay-up to erase the last vestiges of a 15-point Brooklyn advantage by giving the Suns a 75-74 lead with 9:17 to play, Russell took over.
He re-entered the game 15 seconds later and buried a pair of free throws to give the Nets the lead for good. Russell then fed Caris LeVert for a short jumper, delivered the ball to Allen Crabbe for a 20-footer and proceeded to score nine of Brooklyn’s next 10 points for a 90-84 lead with just over five minutes to play.
Russell also drew out the Phoenix defense before feeding DeMarre Carroll for an easy lay-in with 90 seconds to go that gave Brooklyn a 96-90 cushion, sealing the Nets’ first win away from Barclays Center since April 4 of last season in Philadelphia.
“My teammates they made shots, they got rebounds, they set great screens,” Russell said.
“Anybody could have put the ball in the hole for us. I just happened to be open and when the shots came upon me I give my teammates credit.”
Joe Harris came off the bench to score 18 points, Crabbe contributed 15, Carroll had 14 and 11 boards and Tyler Zeller finished with 12 points for Brooklyn (4-6), which finally held an opponent below 100 points in its 10th game of the campaign.
“It wasn’t the prettiest game ever played in the NBA. It was a lot of tugging and clawing,” said Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson after his squad took well to his two days of film sessions and practices emphasizing better team defense and overall focus.
“A lot of fouls but we found a way. Our defense was good. We had contributions from a lot of guys.”
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson left the game in the second quarter with a left hip contusion and was unlikely to see action Tuesday night in Denver, where the Nets were slated to continue this five-game West Coast swing.
Crabbe, who got the start at shooting guard for just the third time this season despite being the highest-paid player on Brooklyn’s roster, made 5-of-9 shots from the floor, including 3-of-4 from 3-point range.
Russell had an even finer shooting touch against the Suns, who beat Brooklyn at Barclays Center on Halloween Night. He made 8-of-13 shots and knocked down 7-of-12 free throws, picking up the scoring slack after Crabbe found himself in early foul trouble.
“I think we all just came in focused,” noted Crabbe. “We had two days off and we were on a losing streak so guys were excited to get back and it and turn things around on this road trip and just compete. That’s what we’ve been preaching the last couple of days, had a good practice and I think the guys have their minds in the right place.”
“First road win, something to build on going into this next one,” added Russell, who deflected most of the credit to his teammates Monday night, like a leader is supposed to do.
Nothing But Net: Quincy Acy returned to the Brooklyn lineup Monday after missing the previous three games with a groin injury. The 6-foot-8 forward only managed two points and missed all eight of his field-goal attempts, but did grab seven of the Nets’ 48 rebounds … Zeller’s 12 points were a personal season high and mostly came off his ability to work well with Russell in the pick-and-roll game. The 7-foot center strengthened his case for more playing time and perhaps even a start at the pivot on this trip after veteran big man Timofey Mozgov managed only two points and two rebounds in 16 minutes against the Suns … Following their visit to Denver Tuesday night, the Nets will get another couple of days off before going to Portland on Friday night and finishing up their five-game trip in Utah on Saturday.
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