In the Lakers’ search for someone to provide energy against the Dallas Mavericks on Friday, they found it with Wenyen Gabriel.
And the Lakers rode with Gabriel in the all-important fourth quarter, playing him alongside Anthony Davis, relying on the backup center as a defender and rebounder.
Gabriel did the job, playing all but one second in the fourth quarter, 23:16 overall, while collecting 11 rebounds to go with nine points.
It was “just his energy” that allowed Lakers coach Darvin Ham to trust Gabriel.
“He has a great, great nose for the ball,” Ham said. “[He had] 11 rebounds. He tries to defend, tries to protect the rim. … He’s just a spark plug, another one of our spark plugs. His size, his ability to run up and down the floor, clean up loose balls, and get offensive rebounds and putbacks. Really defends well. And he showed all of that tonight. That’s why we stayed with him.”
For all that he did well, helping to double team dangerous Dallas guard Kyrie Irving, it was a painful night for Gabriel and the Lakers, who lost the game on a last-second three-pointer by Maxi Kleber.
“This one hurts, bro, for real,” Gabriel said. “Tired of losing these close games.”
Gabriel entered with 4:16 to play in the third quarter and played until the final buzzer, with the exception of one momentary substitution and quick reentry, his play was infectious and inspiring.
Gabriel had four rebounds in the fourth quarter, all offensive.
When Irving got the ball late in the game, Gabriel was helping Dennis Schroder on defense, using his long arms and sliding his 6-9 body to keep the Dallas star from getting off more shots.
“That’s part of one of the things with my skill set, is that mobility to do that with a player like Kyrie or I’m guarding a big, to be able to double, kind of slide and try to get the ball out of his hands and that was something that was my job,” Gabriel said. “And then when my guy goes to help, go get offensive rebounds and that’s another thing that I’ve been able to bring value to the team.
“And just playing with a lot of energy and playing with a higher IQ and understanding how to play with different players. Like today, today was my first time playing with AD in a while and I think those minutes looked good and hopefully later down the line we get more opportunities for that as well.”
The Lakers’ poor free-throw shooting hurt them in a bad way. They got to the line more than enough, shooting 31 free throws.
But they made just 19, or 61.3%.
That won’t get it done. It didn’t get it done.
The Lakers shot 64.3% from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter, when the game was there for them to close out.
“And we did the job we wanted,” Ham said. “We seek to do every game, and that’s to win the free-throw line. We got 31 attempts but you got to make more than 19. We make our free throws, we’re probably not having this conversation.”
Davis made one of two free throws with 6.7 seconds left, giving the Lakers a two-point lead but leaving the door open for Kleber to make a buzzer-beating three-pointer for the Dallas win over a stunned Lakers team.
“I shot a little right. We would have been up three after that point,” Davis said. “Still kind of processing it. I mean, you think about it, up three, even if he makes a three, overtime. … I mean, a tough loss.”
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.