On Sunday morning, D'Angelo Russell heard the phone ring and his father informed the 21-year-old that his grandmother, the matriarch of the family, had passed away.
Understandably distraught, Russell worked out flight plans to fly home to be with his family and informed his coach that he didn't plan on playing in Sunday night's home game against the Minnesota Timberwolves. After talking it over with his family, though, Russell missed his 2 p.m. flight and decided to play about a half hour later.
Of course, Los Angeles Lakers coach Luke Walton knew his point guard was struggling emotionally. Though the team did not have a shootaround session prior to the game, the pair walked into the arena together with Russell already intent on playing.
"Yea," Walton responded when asked if Russell had been emotional when walking into the arena.
"That's not my place to tell him what to do," the coach added when asked if he thought about intervening and telling the former Ohio State Buckeye to sit out Sunday's game. "Only he knows what he feels. And when he walked off, he said something about using the game to get out some of the frustration. So, I'm always going to leave that to the player and not tell him what to do."
After an up and down showing early in the game, Russell would eventually step forward to hit a game-winning three-point shot that hit the iron and popped straight up in the air before passing through the net after the buzzer had sounded.
The Lakers had beaten the Minnesota Timberwolves 110-109, and Russell was mobbed by his teammates immediately before rushing into the stands to find his family. Back in the locker room, Russell admitted that Sunday was the most emotional contest he had played as a professional, at the least.
"She was a strong woman," Russell said was asked about his grandmother. "She did a great job raising my dad. I'm piggy-backing off of 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."
Russell added, "I just wanted to win. For me to hit the game winning shot, that's just God putting the cherry on top. A win would have been good enough."
The point guard credited his family as being the driving force in convincing him to play on Sunday, so when his game winning three-pointer dropped, Russell went into the crowd and celebrated with his family. He said he has a habit of doing that, but this time seemed like it meant a bit more.
After returning to the court for his walk-off on-court interview, Russell publicly shared the news that his grandmother had passed away for the first time.
"R.I.P to my granny, man," Russell ignored the Spectrum Sportsnet question asking him to break down the play and spoke on what was on his mind instead. "Found out my granny was dead this morning, man. That's tragic. That's God's hands. I can't really control that. That's God making that shot. That shot was for my granny."
Minnesota Notes: In the loss, Andrew Wiggins scored 41 points, while Karl-Anthony Towns finished with 40 points and 21 rebounds. Towns was one rebound short of his career-high and made 17 of his 22 field goal attempts on the night.
Lakers Notes: The Lakers won four straight games for the first time in four years, going back to the end of the 2012-13 NBA season, when Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant were still on the team. The Phoenix Suns won on Sunday, so the Lakers winning meant that LA can do no worse than tied with the Suns for the second-worst record in the NBA. After Sunday, the Lakers lead the Suns by one win with two games remaining for the Lakers, while the Suns only have one game left on their schedule.