Today, the Washington Wizards lost to the Philadelphia 76ers, 125-118 in Game 1 of the NBA Playoff series.
Before going on about this game at length, let me start with a bit of history.
After missing out the NBA playoffs for two consecutive years, we finally got to see the Washington Wizards in some postseason action. The last time that happened was a 102-92 home to the Toronto Raptors in Game 6 (of the 1 seed - 8 seed series also that time) on April 27, 2018:
So, back at action, and the only players on the court that played in that 2018 game for the Wizards that still suited up today were Bradley Beal... and Mike Scott (in a 76ers uniform, but DNPed). No one else on the Wiz except Beal survived the numerous trades that happened since (Marci Gortat, Markieff Morris, John Wall, Kelly “Wave Papi” Oubre, Tomas “Everybody Eats” Satoransky) or expiring contracts (Ian Mahinmi, Ty Lawson and friends).
Let the Playoffs begin
So that’s all history.
Today’s game was much anticipated also thanks to the great animosity/rivalry between Russell Westbrook and 76ers center Joel Embiid. Probably one of the reasons the game was featured on TNT... Or maybe not.
To be honest, the Wizards deserved to be on national TV based on their fantastic play in the last month and a half.
Good first half, led by transition offense
And, the Wizards actually won the first half 62-61, due to good play from Robin Lopez and Alex Len that combined for 21 points, while on the other hand, Embiid got into foul trouble with 3 early fouls. What actually kept the Philadelphia 76ers in the game was the best half of basketball in Tobias Harris’ career with 28 points. He essentially scored at will. As usual, the Wizards were relaxed on D. On the other hand, they were quite effective on offense, and kept pushing the pace using transition offense that was fun to watch. The Philadelphia 76ers are a bottom-three team as far as transition defense so this was to be expected.
Philadelphia tightens up the defense in the third quarter
Beal was relatively quiet in the first half, but—and this is something we got used to see recently—as it seems to take him time to get into the game and loosen up due to his hamstring injury, he usually lights up in the second half. But so did the 76ers defense. And the offense, led by Embiid and Seth Curry, and the 76ers blasted out of the gates for a 38—31 3rd quarter putting the score at 93—99. While the Wizards center-by-committee did not get into foul trouble individually, they did commit 12 fouls between Gafford, Lopez and Len. Overall, Embiid got to the line at will (overall going for 12/13 FTs).
Washington loses concentration in the fourth quarter
The Wizards came close several times during the final period, however, several careless turnovers by Beal and Westbrook essentially killed off any chance of a comeback.
Game 1 totals...— Wiz of Awes (@WizOfAwes) May 23, 2021
Beal + Westbrook: 12
76ers: 11 pic.twitter.com/uoBuaR8iS7
The dagger was probably the slightly controversial side out-of-bounds call on Westbrook with less than a minute to go. The call was reviewed, and even after review, it was still not a hundred percent clear that Westbrook actually stepped on the line with his whole soul. But, there was not enough evidence to overturn the call, so it stayed. And from there, the 76ers were up by five and in possession of the ball, which effectively ended the game.
Overall, Russell Westbrook didn't show up as focused to this game like others over the past month. Aside from his turnovers in the fourth quarter which could be attributed to fatigue, he had other awkward decisions, bad shot choices, going for 7-of-17 from the field and had this turnover/pass to Brooks:
Beal, on the other hand, did heat up in the second half going for 33 points in the game, and was the best starter in terms of plus/minus (-4). Of the three centers, Gafford was impressively at +14, and was hyper-efficient with 6/6 from the field including some beautiful dunks and alley-hoops, including this dish from Ish,
Lopez had a couple beautiful hook shots, both with the right and left hands.
Overall, the Wizards had a good game, and had they been more focused, especially Westbrook and Beal, they might have had a great chance at stealing this game — as the 76ers did look a bit rusty after a week-long pause.
The Wizards play Game 2 on Wednesday when they will have a chance to even this series out. Tip-off is at 7 p.m. ET.