With Brandon Ingram ruled out for the remainder of the season, and Kyle Kuzma and Lance Stephenson still unavailable because of injury, the Los Angeles Lakers turned to a lineup against the Boston Celtics that included Moritz Wagner and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
For Wagner, it was his first career start. The rookie certainly did not disappoint, providing early energy en route to finishing with a career-high 22 points to go along with six rebounds and three assists in 34 minutes.
Wagner, however, cared less about his performance and more about the final result — a 120-107 loss to the Boston Celtics.
“As a basketball player and a competitor you always want to win,” he said. “So it kind of hurts to fight that hard all game and then kind of have to leave again with a loss. That’s my first thought about it. I’m pretty proud, but the thing that sticks out is it’s a loss.“
Shattering his career high in meaningful minutes, Wagner commented on the fact that the NBA game is much faster than college, which took some getting used to. “I think the biggest thing is to slow down a little bit,” he explained.
“I keep turning the ball over. The league is a lot faster than college. A lot faster than what I’m used to. It’s a lot more single-hitters, one-play actions. I’m not used to that yet. That’s something I’ll continue to work on. Obviously, defensively be more solid and stand my man there.”
Despite the incredible effort from Wagner, his thin frame allowed for bigger players like Al Horford to simply move him en route to the basket.
Head coach Luke Walton also spoke about Wagner’s start, and loved the experience it brought to his game. “I thought Moe was good. He looked a little nervous to start, well maybe not nervous, but he was probably a little overly excited it felt like on some of the stuff,” Walton said.
“As he got into the groove of the game and he just started making the reads and making plays, it was a good a night for him and a great learning experience for him and something to build on.”
Wagner, along with Johnathan Williams, also caught the attention of LeBron James. “They were great. They were great all night. Both on the offensive end and defensive end,” he said.
“Their energy is something we have been lacking. They are just young guys who just play. They play free and they’re going to make mistakes, obviously, they’re young. They’re going to make mistakes, but they played through it and they played hard. It was fun and we’re happy for them.”
After a performance like that and given the Lakers’ current state, it’s likely Wagner will receive extended opportunities for the rest of the season.