This was definitely a Thrust the Process game for the 76ers.
You knew it was going to be a great night for the Sixers when Joel Embiid began thrusting his hips in the air from his back on the baseline late in the second quarter. The MVP finalist had just made a running finger roll while being fouled by Washington Wizards forward Davis Bertans. After celebrating on the floor, Embiid made a foul shot to complete the three-point play to give the Sixers a 12-point lead.
And the rout was on.
Now, the Sixers have a commanding 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven opening-round playoff series. The Sixers exited the Wells Fargo Center with a 120-95 victory. Game 3 will be played at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C.
“DX, Triple X and Shawn Michaels, you were my favorite wrestlers,” Embiid said of the thrust. “Also the group was also my favorite. That’s what they used to do. And also with the ref’s sign, the and-one, it just makes sense to combine the both of them, and just enjoy myself.
“But at the end of the day, amaze the crowd.”
However, Wednesday will also be remembered for a Sixers fan being ejected for pouring popcorn on Wizards point guard Russell Westbrook when he left with an ankle injury with 10 minutes, 29 seconds remaining in the game.
We’ll see if further disciplinary action will be taken to the fan or if the now-injured Westbrook will play in Game 3. Even if Westbrook is healthy and plays, the Sixers will be tough to beat on Saturday if their top three players — Embiid, Tobias Harris, and Ben Simmons — duplicate what they did Wednesday night.
Simmons silenced his “he can’t score” critics by finishing with 22 points on 11-for-15 shooting. The All-Star point guard also added nine rebounds and eight assists. Twelve of Simmons’ points came in the first quarter on 6-for-8 shooting.
Even though he had 15 assists and 15 rebounds, he was criticized after Game 1 for scoring just six points on 3-for-9 shooting and missing all six of his foul shots.
“I thought it was pretty hard to get 15 assists and 15 rebounds in the NBA playoffs,” Simmons said of the criticism. “I thought that was pretty impressive. And for me, I’m here to win. And I’m doing what I need to do to help my team win whatever it is. And I’m going to do that every night.
“So I’m not trying to prove anybody wrong or anything like that. I’m going out there, trying to do my job to win. I want a championship.”
But Simmons was aggressive on Wednesday after being criticized over the previous two days for his low-scoring outing. His coach, Doc Rivers, and teammates Seth Curry and George Hill spoke up for him on Tuesday. Simmons said the criticism didn’t motivate him because he was giving the ball to Harris and Embiid, who were feeling it.
“That’s the point of basketball, right?” Simmons said. “Those people have it going, you are going to give them the ball. I’m not surprised what Doc said, because Doc knows the game.
“A lot of these people that are saying that never even touched a basketball or played a game at a high level. So I mean that would be like me telling you something about your work or your job.”
Embiid and Harris continued where they left off on Wednesday.
Embiid had 22 points and seven rebounds after the four-time All-Star center scored 30 points in Game 1. Meanwhile, Harris finished with 19 points and nine rebounds after scoring a playoff career-high 37 points on Sunday.
Harris did have a scary moment in the second quarter, though.
He went to the locker room after Washington’s Robin Lopez stepped on his left foot with 7 minutes left in the half. It appeared he might have rolled his ankle. However, Harris returned with 4:30 left before intermission and didn’t miss a beat.
Curry (nine points) suffered ankle soreness in the third quarter and didn’t return.
Matisse Thybulle had five blocks and four steals in a reserve role.
Bradley Beal finished with a game-high 33 points, while Westbrook, his Wizard backcourt mate, finished with 10 points and 11 assists.
But Westbrook didn’t return after his ankle injury and responded postgame to the action of the popcorn tosser in Section 104 who was ejected from the arena.
“I wouldn’t come up to me on the street and throw popcorn on my head, because you know what happens,” the nine-time All-Star said. “In these arenas, you gotta start protecting players. We’ll see what the NBA does.”
Valerie Camillo, the arena’s president of business operations, called the fan’s actions “classless, unacceptable behavior.”
“And we’re not going to tolerate it at Wells Fargo Center,” Camillio said in a statement. “We’re proud to have the most passionate fans in the country and the best home-court and home-ice advantage around, but this type of behavior has no place in our arena.”
Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James chimed in on the incident Wednesday night on Twitter.
“By the way WE AS THE PLAYERS wanna see who threw that popcorn on Russ while he was leaving the game tonight with an injury!!” James tweeted. “There’s cameras all over the arenas so there’s no excuse. Cause if the shoe was on the other foot … #ProtectOurPlayers”
The NBA playoffs are all about adjustments.
The biggest questions heading into Game 2 were what types of adjustments were the Wizards going to make against Harris and Embiid.
On Sunday, Harris scored his points on a lot of straight-line drives. He created mismatches on switches. But the Wizards took bad angles while double-teaming Embiid. They were also late on the double team, leaving the second defender in no-man’s land.
The Wizards also wanted to be more physical with the Sixers. They felt they had too many ticky-tack fouls in Game 1. They wanted the Sixers to feel them.
But in regards to the double-teams, Wizards coach Scott Brooks said before Wednesday’s game that his squad didn’t bring the intensity it needed on Sunday.
“We didn’t have a lot of pressure before the catch,” he said. “We didn’t have the plants, the chest-to-chest and the forehand on his head. And we allowed the pass to get out too easy.
“But he’s seen it all. We are not the first team to double from the baseline, double from the top.”
Brooks also noted that his team’s 15 foul shots on Sunday were 11 under its average. He pointed out that the Sixers’ 33 foul shots were about their average (25.5).
An attacking team, the coach said his Wizards needed to get to the free-throw line.
Well, at least they tried.
The Wizards still had no answers for Harris.
The Sixers power forward had a solid start for the second straight game. He scored eight points on 4-for-5 shooting in the first quarter. His baskets came on a running layup, a 7-foot turnaround jumper, an 8-foot turnaround fadeaway, and an alley-oop.
Embiid made just 1 of 4 shots in the opening quarter. However, it didn’t matter as Simmons was close to unstoppable.
He scored his 12 first-quarter points on 6-for-8 shooting. Simmons had four dunks to go with a putback layup and a 5-foot fadeaway. He also blocked a shot and had five rebounds.
The Sixers took a 35-24 lead into the second quarter. That’s when Embiid came to life, scoring 11 points on 4-for-5 shooting. Harris, despite the left ankle scare, remained hot. The 10th-year veteran made all four of his second-quarter shots to score eight points.
As a team, the Sixers shot 68.2% in the quarter en route to taking a 71-57 halftime lead.