D’Angelo Russell struggled in Game 1, which Nuggets head coach Mike Malone gloated after the game.
Throughout the playoffs, the Lakers relied on a number of players around LeBron James and Anthony Davis. They rode the hot hand on a play-to-play basis and found great success doing so, which is also credit to the roster’s willingness to play a role at the back at times when they don’t.
D’Angelo Russell has been among those players throughout the playoffs. In many ways, he’s been the barometer for the Lakers because when he’s on, the Lakers are almost unbeatable. When he doesn’t, the Lakers tend to struggle.
In Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, the Lakers are a perfect 7-0 when he scores over 15 points and 0-6 when he fails to reach that threshold. In Tuesday’s Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, Russell wasn’t a factor, finishing with just 8 points on 4-11 shooting while missing all three of his 3-point attempts.
After the game, Nuggets head coach Mike Malone was asked how he thought his team was defending role players. He specifically mentioned his team’s performance against Russell.
“Austin Reaves made two threes late,” Malone said. “I felt we did a great job on D’Angelo Russell – so great he wasn’t even in the game much in the second half.”
Malone is now the second coach to specifically discuss an adjustment to eliminate Russell. In the Warriors series, at least part of the reason Steve Kerr inserted Gary Payton II into the starting lineup to slow D’Lo down.
When he makes shots, the Lakers are a much more dangerous offensive team because they have the spacing to complement the lead of LeBron James and Anthony Davis on the inside. When he misses shots he loses a lot of his value, especially when he plays with the ball as much as he did in the first game.
The discussion around Russell, however, wasn’t exactly productive on social media during the playoffs. That’s probably because he’s a $30 million player and therefore has higher expectations, but he was a big factor in the Lakers winning multiple games this postseason.
The ceiling is high with D’Lo and the floor is low, basically. We saw the floor in Game 1, but he’s just as capable of bouncing back in Game 2. Those words could very well come back to bite Malone later in this series.
You can follow Jacob on Twitter at @JacobRude.