After a morning that began with news of the unexpected death of his grandmother, D’Angelo Russell very nearly took a 2,000-mile flight to his native Louisville.
Instead, he honored her with the greatest shot of his young career.
With the Lakers down by two and time expiring, Russell fired a 3-pointer from the left wing that initially appeared to rim out. But the ball hovered above the hoop for a split second before falling through for a 110-109 victory over Minnesota.
“Honestly, I knew that’s what my grandma would have wanted,” Russell said of his decision to play. “My dad, my brothers — everybody wanted me to play. I wanted to get away from basketball.
“I didn’t want to express myself through basketball. But that’s the only option I kind of had, so I tried to take advantage of it.”
Russell’s teammates immediately swarmed him, as Thomas Robinson repeatedly slapped the 21-year-old’s forearm in reference to Russell’s trademark “ice in my veins” celebration.
From there, Russell made his way into the stands where his brothers — who had talked him into playing the game for their grandmother — took him into their arms.
”She was a strong woman,” Russell said. “Like I said, she did a great job of raising my dad. Piggy-backing off that, my dad did a great job raising his sons and his kids in general; being a great father.
“That’s what she was put on this earth for.”
Head coach Luke Walton initially thought that Russell would miss the game. Instead, he was the Lakers’ first player out on the floor for pregame warmups.
“You could tell he was hurt,” Walton said. “You could tell it was painful for him. It wasn’t easy to talk about, but you could see how much love he had for (his grandmother) when he was speaking about her.”
Four of a Kind
As Russell’s final shot fell through, the Lakers found themselves on the team’s first four-game winning streak in four years.
In order to get to this point, L.A. (25-55) had to overcome a pair of behemoth efforts from Andrew Wiggins (41 points, 13-of-14 free throws) and Karl-Anthony Towns (40 points, 17-of-22 field goals, 21 rebounds).
Minnesota’s duo accounted for 81 of their team’s 109 points, but the Lakers held strong behind a couple of unlikely scoring options.
Mid-season acquisition Tyler Ennis continued his surge as the team’s backup point guard by racking up a career-high 20 points with four 3-pointers.
But 37-year-old Metta World Peace was the one who sent the crowd into a frenzy with his fourth-quarter performance.
World Peace — who didn’t play in any of the first three periods — scored eight points in the fourth to bring the Lakers within four points with 32.2 seconds left.
Julius Randle narrowed the gap with a dunk, then Larry Nance Jr. gave the Lakers a chance at victory by swatting Ricky Rubio’s ensuing attempt.
Nance’s block led to a fast-break that finished with a corner 3-pointer from World Peace, who was just off the mark. But Randle tracked down the long rebound and found Russell for the last shot of the night.
“I get goosebumps even talking about the way that the game ended,” Walton said. “How awesome for him, and on such a tough day where obviously basketball is nothing in the big picture of what he’s dealing with.
“… But boy, to see him run and jump into the crowd afterwards and find his family — what a special moment.”
Russell was 1-of-7 on 3-pointers before the game-winner. … Nance had 10 points, 10 rebounds and six assists. … Minnesota (31-49) shot 3-of-16 from 3-point range. … A sold-out crowd of 18,997 filled Staples Center.