D'Angelo Russell's career-high 52 in Warriors' loss sparks Kobe memories

Logan Murdock
NBC Sports BayArea

MINNESOTA -- In the fourth quarter of a familiar game at the Target Center, D'Angelo Russell found himself at the top of the key with the game on the line. 

Guarded by Andrew Wiggins, Russell drove to the lane and made an off-balance shot, sending the game into overtime, capping a night in which he scored nine of his team's final 11 points in regulation. 

That was four years ago, in a Lakers uniform, with the watchful eye of organizational legend Kobe Bryant on the other side of the court.  

"Kobe was like 'you got that,'" Russell told NBC Sports Bay Area following Friday's 125-119 loss to the Timberwolves. "He was coaching me through it."

The moment gave Russell the belief that he could be an NBA player, turning the midwest arena into fertile ground for another outburst. 

On Friday, it happened, as Russell scored a career-high 52 points, including 35 in the second half, carrying Golden State to the brink of its third win of the season. 

"One of the best performances I've seen with my two eyes in person," Warriors forward Alec Burks admitted. 

Russell's dominance was apparent from tip-off. In his first seven minutes, he scored 12 points, helping Golden State take an early 31-29 lead, making a diverse array of shots. Five minutes into the game, he took a dribble handoff from big man Omari Spellman and made a jump shot, drawing a foul on Wolves guard Treveon Graham in the process.

Two quarters later, Russell made a rainbow jumper over 6-foot-11 center Gorgui Dieng, capping off a 14-point third quarter, showing that he was locked in the zone all night.

"You don't even know what time of the game it is," Russell admitted. "You just get in that zone and look up, you've got 20 and then you look back up and you've got 40."

His most impressive play was reserved for his best friend -- Wolves center Karl-Anthony Towns. Up 108-106 with 30 seconds to go, he sized up Towns, before draining a 21-footer to give the Warriors a four-point lead, prompting a forceful declaration. 

"He can't guard me. He knows that," Russell boasted. "He's a great dude, great competitor but he knows he can't guard me."

Russell was so confident in the result he waved off guard Alec Burks once he saw who was guarding him, with sound reason. 

"I just thought it was the best matchup," Russell said. "If Alec had Karl on him -- just the mismatch -- I think we would all give him the ball and attack as well. It just happened to be Karl." 

The performance was a welcome sight for Russell. Though he was averaging 19 points per game entering Friday's game, Russell was shooting just 38 percent from the field. Entering Friday, the Warriors were minus-80 when he was on the floor. Worse, in the midst of his season's previous best effort -- a 30 point performance against Phoenix -- he sprained his ankle, missing three games as a result. 

Russell returns as the Warriors are in dire times. In the last 10 days, five players have missed games due to injury, including star guards Klay Thompson and Steph Curry, who will both be re-evaluated in February. Additionally, Draymond Green didn't travel with the team on the current road trip to treat a torn ligament in his left index finger. Of the 10 active players in Friday's loss, none were with the team last season, putting more of an offensive burden on Russell's shoulders. 

Friday's performance comes as Russell is still trying to find his way on a new team. Coming off an All-Star season in which he averaged 21.1 points and seven assists for the Brooklyn Nets, the 23-year-old is forced to carry his team offensively for a Warriors team ravaged by injuries.

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Similar times followed Russell four years ago. Bryant -- like the rest of the battered Lakers roster -- forced the rookie to find his game. Over the next four games, he averaged 19.5 points, five assists, showing -- like Friday evening -- he's more than up for the task. 

"That was probably one of my best games my rookie year," Russell said. "Showed me what I was capable of, honestly."

D'Angelo Russell's career-high 52 in Warriors' loss sparks Kobe memories originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

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