LOS ANGELES – For the second game in a row, the Los Angeles Lakers were unable to close out a winnable game in the clutch. And for the second game in a row, the Lakers were left mourning a foul they believed went uncalled and affected the outcome.
After Sunday’s 113-112 loss to Philadelphia, russell westbrook claimed the Sixers center Joel Embiid grabbed his arm on Los Angeles’ final offensive possession as the Lakers guard was attempting a potential game-winning layup with 3 seconds remaining.
“He was trying to raise his hand,” Westbrook explained afterwards. “I couldn’t raise my hand to shoot because [Embiid] I was grabbing it. But everything is okay”.
Westbrook showed a small group of reporters a screenshot on his cellphone that appeared to show Embiid’s left hand grabbing Westbrook’s right wrist as the 2017 league MVP began his drive toward the basket.
The official box score awarded to the Sixers striker George Niang with a block on Westbrook’s shot attempt with 3.0 seconds remaining and Embiid a defensive rebound with 1.0 seconds remaining as he corralled the fumble before the buzzer to close things out.
Embiid disagreed with Westbrook’s version of the sequence.
“I don’t think he needed it,” Embiid said. “Physical play on both sides. You could also have called a foul on the other end, in the pothole. So, it goes both ways.”
Then, in typical Embiid fashion, the big man from Philadelphia gave his version of events with a wink.
“They were pushing the ball in transition and he was in front of me and I just waved everyone else away. I think I’m a great defender so I think I can stop anybody,” Embiid said. “[Westbrook] he was actually unlucky because he lost the ball and then from there he had nothing else going on.
“Yeah, I’d say it was unfortunate.”
The loss, which was the Lakers’ third straight and came after a double-overtime loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday, left Los Angeles 19-24, 13th in the 15-team Western Conference.
“It’s just frustrating” Lebron James saying. “To be in those positions and not be able to come out with a win… We’re playing good basketball. We’re just not winning games.”
Lakers coach Darvin Ham defended both his decision not to call a timeout with 13.1 seconds remaining when Westbrook bounced an Embiid error on the defensive end and the fact that Westbrook was the one to orchestrate the final possession instead of James.
“One down, you’ve got one of our best playmakers at the rim, one of our best finishers at the rim, he’s got the ball with Embiid standing in front of him,” Ham said. “I’ll take that stage every day of the week and twice on Sunday.
“We just have to finish the play. That’s it. Make a harder, stronger move to the rim. That’s it. It’s as simple as that. And it just didn’t work.”
Before the game, with antonio davis (right foot stress reaction), patrick beverly (disease not COVID-19), austin reaves (left hamstring strain) and Lonnie Walker IV (left knee tendonitis), Ham said the only two automatic options for his closing lineup would be James and Westbrook.
Even though the end mirrored other late-game situations that resulted in losses for the Lakers this season against the Portland Trail Blazers and LA Clippers when the opposing team’s center protected Westbrook at a critical moment and Westbrook was unable to capitalize, Ham he doubled down on his support for his guard point.
“Just being down a point and the ball is in Russell Westbrook’s hand, I’m comfortable with that. I don’t know how much I can reiterate that. If I were Bron, it would be the same,” Ham said. . “It’s disappointing that we lost. And it’s disappointing that we couldn’t close out the game. But make no mistake about it, one down with the ball in Russ’s hands with Embiid standing in front of him, I have confidence in my player. And that’s not going to to change. We just have to make a better play.”
The ending ruined a terrific night for Westbrook individually and the Lakers as a team. Westbrook had 20 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists, becoming the all-time leader in triple-doubles for a substitute by recording the fourth of his career.
James scored 35 points on 15-of-23 shooting, with 10 assists and eight rebounds, and surpassed 38,000 career total points, becoming the youngest player to reach the mark and only the second player to do so since. Kareem Abdul Jabbarthe NBA’s all-time scoring leader with 38,387 points.
“The best thing about this league is that you have a chance to redeem yourself very quickly,” said James, who was brief during his postgame remarks, still reeling from the loss. “You still have a chance to be better the next day.
“We have another tomorrow and we must be ready to play against a young, fast and energetic Houston Rockets team.”