In Monday’s matinee to honor Martin Luther King Jr., the Washington Wizards (23-21) topped the Philadelphia 76ers (25-18), 117-98, sending most of the traveling supporters home early.
During an afternoon of remembrance and celebration, here’s what the players said about MLK Jr. and his legacy.
Bradley Beal: “I think if he was still here today, I think in a lot of ways he would be proud but still unsatisfied. It’s definitely something that we’ve made a stride, but we still have a lot of strides left to go.”
On the afternoon when the Wizards had their full complement of players for the first time this season, Washington found itself without its head and assistant coach. The two absences paved the way for basketball lifer and Assistant Coach Joseph Blair to assume lead NBA duties for the first time in his career.
Blair also had his top scorer back; Beal returned after a three-game hiatus in the league’s health and safety protocols. With Beal back in the fold, Washington sprinted to an 11-2 lead.
Philadelphia big man Joel Embiid, who had a game-high 32 points and eight rebounds, baited Wizards’ center Daniel Gafford into three quick fouls, and “The Process” then got Thomas Bryant for yet another foul on a Washington center.
But even though Embiid got to the line eight times in the first and logged 11 points, the home team went into the break up nine. Collectively, the Wizards shot 60% from the field and 50% from three on six attempts.
At the buzzer, Bryant picked up the ball, hit Andre Drummond with a pretty fake and downed a buzzer-beater two. And that wasn’t even the nicest play of the quarter.
The highlight of the second came at 4:31. Raul Neto drove the lane, spun and found Kyle Kuzma at the edge of the three-point line. Kuzma then drove to the net and dunked all over Embiid, much to the delight of Wizards’ bench and the Washington faithful inside Capital One Arena.
After it looked like the hosts had the last laugh of the period following a Corey Kispert three, Montrezl Harrell fouled Tyrese Maxey — the only other 6er to reach double-digit scoring with 18 — with eight-tenths of a second remaining, and the second-year player out of Kentucky knocked down both of his free throws.
From 7:09 to 2:44 in the fourth, the 6ers failed to make a field goal, with the team’s only point coming off a Maxey free throw. When Philadelphia finally got a bucket, Head Coach Doc Rivers already had thrown in the towel and put in the bench unit.
The difference in Monday’s affair was bench points and defense. Washington outscored Philly 63-27 and held their opponents under 100 points on 27% shooting from three.
It was a welcome win after a disappointing loss to the Portland Trail Blazers on Saturday.
Kuzma’s 15-point, 16-rebound double-double gave the former Laker his 10th double-double in the last 13 games. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope added 15 points and Beal had 13 and six assists.
Harrell led all Wizards’ scorers off the bench with 18 points and seven rebounds, Bryant had 15 points and Rui Hachimura and Kispert had 11.
The Wizards were also without a full coaching staff as Joseph Blair was the head coach when then-interim head coach Pat Delany was in his place in their last game.
Washington’s next game is on Wednesday when they host the Brooklyn Nets at 7 p.m. ET.