D’Angelo Russell’s impressive return helps Lakers beat Raptors

D’Angelo Russell’s impressive return helps Lakers beat Raptors

LOS ANGELES — The rattle of nerves throughout Friday night’s back-and-forth game revealed just how much the Lakers have needed a little something extra this season.

A shot of ice in their veins.

D’Angelo Russell made an impressive comeback from a six-game layoff with a sprained right ankle, making five 3-point shots on his way to a team-best 28 points and nine assists and turning a team that has already been improved since the trade deadline into one that was inspired. A 122-112 victory over the Toronto Raptors saw the Lakers erase multiple double-digit deficits – thanks much in part to a bench that wouldn’t quit and Russell’s cold-blooded shooting that capped the team’s best sequences.

The Lakers improved to 8-3 since adding Russell and four others, strengthening their No. 9 position in the Western Conference on a night when two conference competitors both lost.

Strikingly, the Lakers were able to win with just eight points and nine rebounds from Anthony Davis, who had been a one-man offensive wrecking crew since LeBron James was injured last month. But shooting 13 for 30 from behind the arc and 56.3% overall helped the Lakers overcome that, especially with a drastic 61-12 bench point advantage spurred by Dennis Schröder (23 points, seven assists), Austin Reaves (18 points) and Rui Hachimura (16 points) who had a way of turning the tide when the Raptors threatened.

The Lakers overcame big nights from Toronto forwards Scottie Barnes (32 points) and O.G. Anunoby, who scored 31 while making his first 11 field goal attempts. The Raptors coaxed the Lakers into 21 turnovers, which early in the third quarter looked like it would be their undoing.

Reaves had one of the best sequences of the fourth, leading a bench charge with an and-one bank shot, a pull-up jumper from midrange, and chasing down Gary Trent Jr. to force a turnover. Jarred Vanderbilt (16 points) made a key hustle play moments later, grabbing a steal from going out of bounds, which found its way to Russell for a critical 3-pointer.

But ultimately it was impossible to ignore Russell’s heroics: The former lottery pick of the Lakers who made a roundabout journey back to L.A. had 16 points in the fourth quarter alone, nailing all four of his shots in the period and sending the home crowd into an absolute frenzy.

The highs and lows of the game were captured by its middle frames: an epic second-quarter gallop that showcased all the best traits of the new-look Lakers – and a third-quarter collapse that was nearly as lopsided.

The Lakers took an early first punch from the Raptors, who led 25-10 at one point, and came clambering back. The last six minutes of play in the first half featured a 21-5 run by the Lakers and some dazzling plays from Russell.

On back-to-back possessions, the 27-year-old danced into the paint for a smooth finger roll unguarded, then crossed over Fred VanVleet into a Davis screen, nailing a 3-pointer. Russell also assisted on the next field goal to Rui Hachimura, who had a second straight impactful game with 16 points off the bench.

The Lakers entered the half with a 70-62 lead, one of their best-looking offensive halves without James in the lineup – an incredible set-up, of course, for a tumble.

Toronto came out of the intermission looking for blood, rattling off nine straight points to take the lead from the Lakers before they had a chance to breathe. It was a 19-2 run before the Lakers finally knocked in their first field goal of the third quarter, a 6: 35 shot by Reaves after Ham had already swapped in the second unit looking for offensive answers.

The Lakers were only able to hang in thanks to Schröder and Reaves, who captained from the bench and trimmed the deficit to five before the fourth quarter.

More to come on this story.