CAPITAL ONE ARENA -- The Washington Wizards beat the Indiana Pacers 142-115 in the play-in tournament on Thursday night. Here are five observations from what went down...
On to the playoffs
The Wizards season has transpired in a way that makes every comeback seem like a metaphor. They've overcome so much, and bounced back so many times, that whether fans expect it yet or not, it just makes sense when it does.
So, it was no surprise in hindsight, knowing this team, to see them not only respond after their loss to the Celtics, but absolutely obliterate the Pacers. They had already beaten Indiana three times in the regular season and topped that off with a complete and thorough beatdown to win and advance to the playoffs for the first time since 2018.
The Wizards have now earned a first round series against the No. 1 Philadelphia 76ers. That will start with Game 1 on Sunday in Philly. Get your Frostees ready.
This is the first time the Wizards have played the Sixers in the playoffs since 1986, when they were the Bullets. Julius 'Dr. J.' Erving and Charles Barkley were on the Sixers, while the Bullets had Manute Bol and Jeff Malone.
The Wizards set a franchise postseason record with 142 points in the win over Indiana. They led by as many as 38.
In a very short time, Daniel Gafford has gone from Bulls castoff to a nice find by the Wizards to a steal to now a guy who on Thursday completely dominated stretches of a postseason game. Per usual, his impact was felt right away on the glass and in the paint. In the second quarter, he became a shot-blocking monster, destroying everything in his path.
Gafford had an absolutely absurd five blocks by halftime. That was the most for a single postseason half in Wizards franchise history and tied for the most for any NBA player in a postseason game in seven years. For the game, he had 15 points, 13 rebounds and five blocks in his biggest showing yet for the Wizards, who somehow got him for a relatively small price at the trade deadline.
Gafford is 22 years old and continuing to get better before our eyes. It's no accident, either. During a first half timeout, he consulted with a referee for several minutes on how to defend without fouling. He demonstrated, the ref demonstrated, Gafford nodded his head and walked away. That's a student of the game right there.
Westbrook went off
Going into this game, you probably heard about Russell Westbrook's dominance of the Pacers this season, as he averaged a preposterous 27.3 points, 20.0 assists and 18.0 rebounds per game. After Westbrook didn't look like himself against the Celtics, it seemed fortuitous the Pacers were up next.
Westbrook lived up to the billing with 18 points, 15 assists and eight rebounds, falling just short of his 11th career postseason triple-double. He shot 6-for-13 and only had three turnovers.
Westbrook got the Wizards going in the second quarter by aggressively attacking the rim. He scored six of their first eight points in the frame to ignite a 36-23 quarter for the Wizards overall. It was a close game until the Wizards opened the quarter on a 20-5 run, including 16 unanswered points. Westbrook, like he has so many times this season, lit the spark.
Rui bounced back
Head coach Scott Brooks said before the game he was confident Rui Hachimura would play better than he did on Tuesday, in what was his first career NBA postseason game. Brooks said Hachimura has a knack for both bouncing back quickly and learning fast. Brooks was right, as after struggling through foul trouble to score only eight points in Boston, Hachimura turned around and dropped 12 in the first half against the Pacers.
Hachimura ended up with 18 points and four rebounds. He shot 6-for-8 from the field. He also played some important defense, in particular on Malcolm Brogdon who torched the Wizards for 10 points in the first quarter, but was slowed after that largely because Hachimura was switched onto him and overwhelmed him with his size and length.
Bertans may be heating up
Hachimura got his groove back and Davis Bertans sort of did, too. After going 0-for-7 from three in Boston -- tying the worst game of his career -- Bertans was off in the first half, missing his first two threes. But he woke up in the second half with two threes to finish the game with nine points, going 2-for-6 from long range.
It didn't matter much, as the Wizards had already built an enormous lead, at one point leading by 30 points before he even got one to fall down. He was essentially bailed out by his teammates. But now the team has a first round series against the Sixers which he could make a major difference in. Maybe he's a sleeping giant, who just needed to see a few go through the rim to get his confidence back. It sure would help the Wizards if he popped off in Game 1 on Sunday.