LOS ANGELES — There were a lot of questions after the final seconds of the Lakers’ loss to the 76ers: Why didn’t LeBron James — the best player on the floor in the game, with 35 points with 10 assists — touch the ball? Why did Russell Westbrook choose to isolate against Joel Embiid — a cross-match, but Embiid is one of the best defensive centers in the game and a huge body not easy to drive around? Why didn’t Lakers coach Darvin Ham call a timeout when he saw what was happening?
The final result wasn’t pretty for a Lakers team in need of wins.
Westbrook fumbled the ball on his first move, gathered it, but by then time was running out so he drove left, couldn’t get by Embiid and the help defense of Georges Niang, and put up what officially was a shot blocked by Niang (although it almost looks like Westbrook is trying to pass to Troy Brown Jr. in the opposite corner). Embiid grabbed the loose ball, and that was the game.
Westbrook said he was fouled on that final shot attempt, even showing a few reporters around his locker a photo as evidence.
“I was trying to attack and get to the basket. Unfortunately, he was grabbing my wrist. I couldn’t get the ball up,” Westbrook said. “But it’s all good.”
Embiid denied that he fouled Westbrook, via Dave McMenamin of ESPN.
“I don’t think I fouled him,” Embiid said. “Physical play on both sides. You could have called a foul on the other end, too, on the bump. So, it goes both ways… They were pushing the ball in transition and he was in front of me and I just waved everybody else off. I believe I’m a great defender, so I believe I can get a stop on anybody. He was actually unlucky because he lost the ball and then from there, he kind of had nothing else going.”
It may have been a foul by the book, but it was a subtle one in real-time and the kind of thing rarely called in the final seconds of a game.
The bigger questions surrounded the decision to let Westbrook isolate on Embiid in the first place — why didn’t LeBron James touch the ball? Why did n’t Lakers coach Darvin Ham use his time out of him?
“Just being down one point in the ball in Russell Westbrook’s hands, I’m comfortable with that. I don’t know how much I can reiterate that,” Ham said postgame. “If that was Bron it’d be the same thing, and we don’t want to bring an extra body over… if we got cross-match within Embiid in front of us again, we just got to make it. We just got to finish the play. That’s it.”
“We got a stop, gave ourselves a chance to win the game, we didn’t,” a frustrated LeBron said postgame in the locker room. When a reporter tried to link this loss to the Lakers’ loss to Dallas last Thursday in double overtimeLeBron simply said, “different game.”
It was a different game, but it also was the second straight game the Lakers couldn’t get a stop when they needed it, couldn’t get a last bucket when they needed it, and lost in the clutch. In both cases, the Lakers didn’t get a late foul call they thought they deserved.
While both losses are to top-five teams in their conference, the Lakers are past the point in the season where they can afford moral victories. Los Angeles is five games below .500 and sits 13th in the West.
“We’re a better team [now] than at the start of the season,” LeBron said.
“I know when we have our team together, when we locked in, we’re a really good team,” Westbrook said.
Here’s more on the Lakers
Westbrook says he was fouled on game-winning shot attempt, Embiid denies it originally appeared on NBCSports.com