PHILADELPHIA – Sometimes, it takes time. Sometimes it actually takes four years, which, in a sporting world ruled by instant gratification, can seem like a career and a half. Sometimes there is genuine value to waiting, to patience, to talent talent and to confidence to grow.
Sometimes, you get D'Angelo Russell, right in front of your eyes.
“We know how good he is , "Nets coach Kenny Atkinson says. “It's fun to watch right now.”
He was fun to watch Saturday, for sure. It was that Russell was the only reason the Nets jumped the Sixers in Game 1 of these Eastern Conference quarterfinals. Few gains as significant as this one happens thanks to only one set of hands. Caris LeVert was terrific. Ed Davis stepped up with 1
Still, even with so many folks leading such a steady, balanced attack, it was impossible To keep your eyes off Russell, who controlled so much of the game's flow, who was the best player on the floor, and who played with a steadiness that was the fact that this 26-point effort was his first-ever appearance in an NBA playoff game.
Most of all: He looked like he belonged, from the very start, like this was a moment and a place he was born to
"I trust our offense" Russell said at game's end. “We have great minds behind it. Coach set us up earlier this season with a routine and recipe for the offense and it's leg flowing ever since. We've got the right pieces to keep it going. You've got guys like Caris and Spencer [Dinwiddie] that it's hard to stay in front of those guys, then you add Joe Harris and other guards and to capitalize on that, it's fun to be a part of. ”
a part of it. He is the piece of the puzzle that makes it all hum. He is the other half of Atkinson's brain, the one who breathes life into the coach's offensive philosophies. Going back to Ohio State, it was always clear Russell had the talent for the task, had the game to make all of this possible. He showed glimpses with the Lakers for two years, and with the Nets last year.
Now, he shows it all. There are lots of indispensable elements on the Nets, a lot of reasons why the whole is so much better than the sum of the parts. Take Russell out of the mix, though, and this is a much different team. A much more ordinary team. The other Nets have confidence in him.
But it is clear evidence of how much confidence he has in making Russell such a fun player to watch right now.
It was not the night the Nets rescued their season, it was Russell who rescued the Nets. They started their critical western swing 0-3 and trailed the Kings in Sacramento 103-78 entering the fourth quarter. They were 12 minutes from dipping under .500 for the season and suddenly the playoffs were in peril.
Then Russell scored 27 points in the fourth quarter, 16 straight at one point, he ended with 44 and the Nets won 123-121 and Jared Dudley was moved to say of his teammate: "Got all Kobe out there . ”
The Nets don't need him to be Kobe. Being the D’Lo they've seen this season? That's plenty. They've already chaired the home court. Now they want to break the Sixers spirit.
"When you got a player like Jimmy [Butler] and Joel [Embiid] over there, those caliber players, you can never count them out," Russell said. "Our job is to keep getting stops, have a defensive-minded mentality going into the game and our offense clicks so we're not really worried about our offense."
And as long as Russell plays like this? There is no other stuff to worry about, either.