INDIANAPOLIS — Every one of the Nets can take pride in his role on a team that was expected to suffer through another losing season as part of a long rebuild but reached the playoffs with a 108-96 victory over the Pacers on Sunday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
But no one has been under more scrutiny than point guard D’Angelo Russell, the No. 2 overall pick of the 2015 draft, who was traded to the Nets by the Lakers two years ago.
Russell achieved All-Star status this season, and Jared Dudley said the next step was proving he could lead a team to the playoffs.
“I think it’s another star on his resume,” coach Kenny Atkinson said.
“He’s more than just a scorer, he’s more than just an elite passer. You’re a winner. To me, you make the playoffs, you put that on your label. It’s so hard to make the playoffs. We were so far away these past two years. To make this big jump — that was really unexpected. That makes it all the more sweet.”
Russell scored 20 points and added six rebounds and six assists in the clinching victory, but he deflected credit. “We wouldn’t have gotten this far without everybody,” he said.
“It sounds cliché to say, but so many guys made big shots that you may not have expected and so many guys made big winning plays that got us those games. We’re enjoying this as a group.”
Russell bypassed any temptation to criticize Lakers chief of operations Magic Johnson, who questioned his leadership abilities at the time of the trade.
“Honestly, I’m humbly saying I trust my craft, I trust my confidence, I trust the position the coaches put me in and I trust my ability,” Russell said. “I’ve been through losing so much in this league, so to finally get a taste of winning and what the playoffs are going to feel like, I’m excited.”