The 2023 Western Conference Finals will serve as an inflection point in D’Angelo Russell’s career. While it’s to be determined whether it’s the turning point in Russell becoming a more well-rounded player or the moment his ceiling as a contributing role player was fully set remains to be seen, but what is known is that it was a disastrous series for D’Lo.
The Nuggets didn’t just play him off the court, they did so with intention, targeting him ruthlessly defensively. And they let him know about it with Bruce Brown — who needs few excuses to talk — at the front of the line. In many ways, the back-and-forth between the Lakers and Nuggets started there.
Fast forward to Saturday and the rivalry was renewed. After spurning the Lakers for a bigger payday in Indiana, Brown had a another shot at the Lakers and D’Lo. And Russell, who took the high road with the Nuggets when it came to trash talk, took a different approach in the In-Season Tournament final.
It started from the onset when Russell helped get Brown in early foul trouble, forcing him to the bench and letting him know about it.
After drawing the second foul on Bruce Brown Jr. -- who trash-talked D'Angelo Russell's defense in the Western Conference finals last season -- Russell pointed at him making the No. 2 finger sign. Brown started jawing back at him and Russell told him to "go sit down."— Jovan Buha (@jovanbuha) December 10, 2023
Throughout the first half, Russell had plenty to say to the Pacers bench, almost certainly directed at Brown. In a role reversal, it was Brown who was a non-factor, playing just 20 minutes and scoring four points while Russell played 32 minutes and scored 13 points with seven rebounds.
And if you thought that was that, you’d be mistaken. After the game, Russell made sure to get the last laugh this time around, via Dan Woike of the LA Times.
“He was talking s— all year. Yeah. Talking s— all year. For me, it was just showing it with my play. I don’t have nothing to say to him. I’m a fan of him to be honest. This was just all on the court. Got something to say? Show me on the court. [Nikola] Jokic ain’t there next to you today. It’s different.”
When it comes to all the possible things D’Lo could have said to Brown, “Nikola Jokic ain’t walking through that door” is about as cold-blooded as it gets.
And Russell earned the right to talk the talk on Saturday. Look, when the Nuggets let him have it, Russell took it like a champ, didn’t retaliate and went to work. He waited for his next chance and struck.
And you want to know the best part? We have two more matchups between the Pacers and Lakers still on the docket which means even more war of words between Brown and Russell still on the slate.
You can follow Jacob on Twitter at @JacobRude.