Jordan Clarkson just couldn’t contain himself.
Dressed in street clothes while watching the Lakers’ Summer League team from his courtside seat, Clarkson rushed out onto the floor to embrace D’Angelo Russell after the 20-year-old’s clutch basket lifted Los Angeles to victory.
The Lakers trailed Philadelphia by two with only 1.8 seconds remaining, but Russell was able to briefly shed off his defender, T.J. McConnell thanks to a solid screen from Larry Nance Jr. That gave him just enough time to catch the inbounds pass, gather himself and rise for a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from well beyond the arc.
Seconds later, the swished shot signaled a 70-69 victory for Los Angeles, and Russell responded by pointing to his forearm for his trademark “ice in my veins” celebration while his fellow Lakers mobbed him.
“Before the shot and all that, I just kept preaching: We’re gonna win this game,” Russell said. “And I made a heck of a shot. Coach drew up a great play.”
Russell finished the night with 22 points on 8-of-20 shooting, with four rebounds and five assists. Though he also committed six turnovers, the soon-to-be-sophomore was coldblooded indeed in the fourth quarter, scoring half of his total to complete L.A.’s 16-point comeback.
For Summer League head coach Jesse Mermuys, the final play was a testament to the kind of player that Russell has the potential to become.
“That’s why the expectations are there,” Mermuys said. “He has the chance to be special. As an organization and as a coaching staff, we have to push him. We’ve got to push him and pull him and prod him and try to help him along that path to be great, and that path is hard. It’s a really tough, long grind.”
The game itself was also a grind, particularly in the first half when the Lakers shot just 7-of-30 while committing 13 turnovers. No Laker had scored more than five points, including Russell, who had gone 2-of-9 with five of his six giveaways on the night.
“I tried to keep the leadership and positive energy going,” Russell said. “Guys were struggling, including myself. My turnovers started the bad run for us.”
Russell provided the offense when his team needed it most. Down 52-40 late in the third quarter, he hit back-to-back 3-pointers to end the frame. With less than four minutes in the game, he drilled consecutive jumpers to keep L.A. within three points.
However, his next moment of triumph was quickly followed by a potentially devastating error.
L.A. trailed, 67-65, with only 8.0 seconds left when Russell stepped up again and sunk a long 2-pointer to tie it back up. However, the Lakers weren’t prepared for Philadelphia, which — instead of taking a timeout — quickly got the ball to McConnell, who took the ball the length of the floor and zoomed past Russell for the go-ahead layup.
However, Russell stepped up moments later with his icy display.
A packed Thomas & Mack Center hosting a clearly pro-Lakers crowd fell in love with Larry Nance Jr. all over again on Saturday.
The Las Vegas arena constantly erupted into chants of “Larry! Larry!” as the former Wyoming Cowboy did just about everything for the Lakers, piling up 13 points (4-of-9), eight rebounds and four assists. On the defensive end, Nance’s night was a Sin City heist that Danny Ocean would be proud of, as he racked up seven steals and four blocks.
Mermuys leaned heavily on Russell and Nance, who rested a combined nine minutes.*
“We had taken some major punches,” Mermuys said. “Our offense was brutal. Their pressure was really taking us out of everything we were trying to do, and (Nance) gave us a life.”
In addition to disrupting the Sixers at seemingly every turn with his defensive playmaking, Nance was sure to drive the crowd crazy on the other end.
Moments after Philadelphia’s Jerami Grant put rookie Ivica Zubac on a poster in the third quarter, Nance came back down and exploded to the rim for a one-handed highlight of his own.
“I told him when he got dunked on: ‘I’ll get him back for you,’” Nance said. “And I did. That’s my center and I’ve got his back.”
However, Nance — who said before the tournament that one of his Summer League goals was to get his highlights on SportsCenter — wasn’t done.
Early in the fourth, he dribbled the ball coast-to-coast before springing up and throwing down a similar rim-shaker that caused a frenzy among the Lakers’ constituency.
*Note: Summer League games are 40 minutes long.
No. 1 vs. No. 2
Shortly after the Summer League schedule was announced in June, this game was circled by most as the main event. The 76ers’ No. 1 overall draft pick, Ben Simmons, faced off against the Lakers’ No. 2 selection, Brandon Ingram, for the first time, and both were afflicted by rookie struggles.
Ingram — who had missed all five of his first-half shots — finished with only seven points on 3-of-12 shooting, while being hounded by Grant’s defense. Though he hit a key jumper with 1:23 left to cut the Lakers’ deficit to two, the night was definitely a rough one for the 18-year-old.
“He just needs to slow down a little bit,” Russell said. “He didn’t make the shots he knows he can make.”
On the other end, Simmons went just 3-of-8 with seven turnovers but was brilliant with his court vision, dribbling and passing. He came within striking distance of a triple-double, notching eight points, 10 rebounds and eight assists, while also providing three steals and a pair of blocks.
Simmons — who was a high school teammate of Russell’s at Montverde Academy in Florida — could have bumped his numbers even higher if his teammates were able to handle his highlight-reel passes or convert on the shots that he set them up for.
“He’s a great player,” Ingram said. “When he came in today, he did a lot of different things. He rebounded the ball, he made his teammates better and he scored the ball.”
Zubac finished with seven points (3-of-7) and eight rebounds. … McConnell led the Sixers with 12 points (6-of-10), four rebounds, six assists and four steals. … The Lakers shot just 36.2 percent from the field, while Philadelphia was only 0.7 percent better. … The Lakers — who have won both of their games so far — continue Summer League against Golden State on Monday at 7 p.m. PT.