After a poor performance Monday night at Boston, Brooklyn Nets point guard D’Angelo Russell made sure it wouldn’t become a trend with a strong outing.
But his five-point, five-assist, six-turnover clunker was the most noticeable as it came on the heels of four straight games of star-caliber performances.
Russell’s career has been marked by short stretches of strong play, followed by similar stretches of less-than-strong play.
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On Wednesday against the Atlanta Hawks, Russell made sure that the downward swing of the pendulum would be a short one.
Russell’s offense keyed the Nets as they began to chip away at Atlanta’s huge lead in the second quarter and his steady play in the second half helped the club complete the biggest comeback win since the franchise moved to Brooklyn in 2012.
The fourth-year guard scored eight of his team-high 23 points in the second quarter, a period in which the Nets fell behind by as much as 19 before closing the gap to just six by halftime.
He added eight more in the third quarter, helping Brooklyn take the lead for good en route to a 116-100 win.
Russell finished the night 11-for-20 from the floor with four assists and three rebounds. While he recorded only one steal, his defense was also solid in helping the Nets plug the gaps the Hawks found early in the game.
Atlanta was getting to the rim almost at will early and hung 38 points on Brooklyn in the first quarter. But Russell’s defensive work in his 26 minutes helped to hold former Net Jeremy Lin to just 5-for-18 shooting and rookie Trae Young to a 6-for-15 night.
The pair combined to go 2-for-14 from 3-point range and had 10 turnovers.
In what has been a career year for Russell, perhaps the biggest transformation has been on that “other” end of the court. Once knocked for his defensive indifference, he’s become more engaged, more involved and more vocal as a defender.
You could really only point to one play Wednesday where the old NoDLo came out, when he took a swipe at Hawks rookie Kevin Huerter on a breakaway layup that turned into a three-point play.
That was one of those instances where you either (a) concede the layup and move on or (b) if you’re going to foul, you make darn good and sure the ball doesn’t get to the rim.
Those are mistakes most NBA guards still make, regardless of defensive pedigree. But that was really the only bad defensive moment Russell had against the Hawks.
The Nets held Atlanta to 62 points over the final three quarters and after surrendering 38 in the first allowed just 19 in the second.
Russell — who has scored at least 20 points in five of his last six games — is averaging 18.2 points, 6.3 assists, 3.7 rebounds and 1.1 steals in 29.4 minutes per game. The points and assists are at a career-high pace, as is his shooting of 42.6 percent overall and 35.6 percent from deep.
And yet after a night in which Russell helped lead a huge comeback and scored 23 points, it was his defensive work that stood out to me.
The kid really has come a long way.