The Washington Wizards beat the Philadelphia 76ers 122-114 in Game 4 of their first round playoff series on Monday night. Here are five observations from what went down...
One loss away from ending their memorable 2020-21 season, the Washington Wizards pulled out one more resilient bounce-back performance, taking Game 4 at home to avoid the sweep and push the series to a 3-1 Sixers lead. The odds of them winning the series remain very slim, but they will officially not be swept.
Now, it helped tremendously that Joel Embiid, the Sixers' best player, got hurt in the first quarter and left the game. The Wizards outscored Philly by nine points from the time he went out.
Embiid's absence certainly made a difference, but the Wizards also played their best defensive game of the series so far. They held the Sixers to 41.7% shooting from the field and 31.6% from three.
Russell Westbrook had another triple-double (19 points, 21 rebounds, 14 assists), the 12th of his playoff career. He was 3-for-19 from the field, but made 13-of-16 at the free throw line. Ben Simmons, meanwhile, went 5-for-11 from the line as the Wizards employed a hack-a-Simmons strategy late and with success.
Bradley Beal added 27 points, while second-year forward Rui Hachimura was a standout with 20 points, 13 rebounds and a killer block on Tobias Harris in the fourth quarter. Given the stakes, it was arguably the best game of his NBA career so far.
The Wizards won one game, but they have plenty more work to do. Game 5 is set for Wednesday night, as the series shifts back to Philly. That will be first game the Wizards franchise has played in June since 1979, the last time they reached the NBA Finals.
Embiid got hurt
The Wizards got a major break late in the first quarter as Embiid, an MVP finalist this season, exited with a right knee injury. He fell awkwardly on a play at the rim with about 2:28 to go and left the game about a minute later. The Sixers would later announce during halftime he was done for the night.
Given Philly was up 3-0 in the series, it could just be a precaution. But if it is significant to any degree, it could have a major effect on the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
Either way, this is the continuation of a random and ominous trend. This is the third consequential injury for the Sixers in a game they were playing the Wizards in just nine months. Last August, Simmons suffered a season-ending knee injury against Washington during a game in the bubble. And in March, Embiid endured a left knee injury that looked very serious at the time and was later diagnosed as a bone bruise.
Bertans was at his best
One game won't rewrite a season-long narrative entirely, but with their season on the line, Davis Bertans came through in a big way. He started for the second straight game, despite underwhelming in Game 3, and delivered with the best playoff game of his career, which now includes 27 appearances. He popped off for a playoff career-high 15 points, all of which came in the first half.
Bertans shot 3-for-6 from three and some of them were right when the Wizards needed a jolt. The timing of his threes has been an issue this season, which has made his overall numbers a bit deceiving. They need him to not only make threes, but to change the momentum of games when he hits them. On Monday, he was able to do that, as well as get to the rim. Bertans made a few nice plays at the rim. As part of that effort, he got to the free throw line where he shot 4-for-4.
Bertans, though, had to leave this game with a right calf strain. That's the same injury that forced him to miss two weeks back in March, so apparently he's hurt it once again.
Lopez provided a lift
Bertans' production was essential with Westbrook and Beal going a combined 5-for-22 in the first half. Robin Lopez also gave them a major boost, both with his scoring and his defense. He had 16 points on 8-for-11 shooting, plus five rebounds.
Lopez helped the Wizards stage a fast comeback in the first quarter after they went down by 11 points early. Lopez blocked Embiid, which led to a Bertans transition three on the other end. It was one of the plays that woke up the crowd and gave Capital One Arena a shot of energy.
For the second straight game, head coach Scott Brooks made a change to his starting lineup. Bertans got the nod in Game 3, then Daniel Gafford got the call for Game 4. He replaced Alex Len, who had started every game for the Wizards at center since March 12, a streak of 41 games including the regular season, play-in tournament and playoffs.
Gafford got into foul trouble early, picking up his second just 3:38 into the game. That will happen sometimes when you match up with Embiid. But Gafford rallied to make a big impact with 12 points, four rebounds and five blocks. It would not be surprising one bit if he opens next season as the starting five, especially with Thomas Bryant very likely not being ready by opening night, given he suffered his ACL injury in January.