Another slow start resulted in the Los Angeles Lakers falling into a 17-point deficit in the first quarter but they rallied to take control of the game behind a dominant second quarter. It was the result of a collective effort and one that saw Lakers bench players receive time.
Chief among them was Moritz Wagner, who entering Sunday had only played seven minutes over three games with the Lakers. As Wagner was involved in multiple pick and rolls, anticipation began to build as he missed multiple shots.
Wagner’s time to scratch finally came at the free throw line, where he sunk both attempts. LeBron James, Kyle Kuzma, Tyson Chandler, JaVale McGee and the entire Lakers bench celebrated with great enthusiasm when Wagner made his first attempt.
“I looked back and they went nuts. That’s pretty cool. It’s fun. It’s been a while, so it was a very cool moment for me,” Wagner said of his teammates’ reaction to scoring his first NBA points.
Lakers head coach Luke Walton pointed to that response as further indication of the environment that’s encompassed the team. “I think it speaks to the culture our team has and the guys we have. Obviously it’s exciting any time a rookie gets their first points,” he said.
“If you looked at our bench, JaVale and Tyson were hitting the floor, because they really are excited for him. They work out against each other every single day. I think that excitement kind of got the whole crowd to recognize it was one of our rookie’s first NBA points, which is special for anybody.”
Wagner later hit a pair of 3-pointers and finished with 10 points. “That’s my guy,” said Michael Beasley, who himself was a key factor in the Lakers mounting a comeback. “He’s just a good kid, man. He’s a funny guy. You forget he’s from Germany. Just one of those guys you love.”
James equated his emotion and Wagner’s accomplishment to learning how to ride a bike. “We were very excited,” James said.
While there may have been expectations for Wagner to play an impactful role, it’s been interrupted by a knee contusion suffered at Las Vegas Summer League. It’s been the source of some frustration but Wagner has focused on maintaining a positive perspective.
“Obviously, it’s not the easiest. Especially if you’re young like that. It’s a little frustrating. You want to get out there, you want to play, you want to help the team win,” he said. “It wasn’t an easy couple months for me but you’ve just got to approach it day by day and it will pay off.”