Nobody would deny Washington received a major break when 76er center Joel Embiid played only one quarter during Monday’s 122-114 loss to the Wizards in Game 4 to prolong the best-of-seven opening-round NBA Eastern Conference series.
The top-seeded Sixers still maintain a lead of three games to one over the No. 8 Wizards, heading into Game 5 on Wednesday at the Wells Fargo Center.
Embiid took a hard fall on his backside when Robin Lopez blocked his driving layup with 4 minutes, 43 seconds left in the first quarter. While Embiid remained in the game, he departed with 36.5 seconds left in the first quarter and didn’t return. The team said he had right knee soreness.
Embiid is listed as doubtful for Wednesday’s game. The Sixers said Tuesday evening that he would be further evaluated over the next 24 hours.
The Wizards also fought through some adversity, including seeing their prized backcourt of Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal struggle from the field. The two were a combined 12-for-42 (28.5%) including 3-for-19 (15.7%) from Westbrook. They were also a combined 2-for-9 from three-point range, with Westbrook missing all four threes.
So, despite an off-shooting night from the duo, the Wizards were able to persevere.
“If you would have told me our two best players would have a shooting night like that and win, I don’t know if I would have been on board with that,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks said during his Zoom interview on Tuesday. “But it did because we just scrapped. We scrapped for one another. Rui [Hachimura] had a monster moment and some really big-time growth moments.”
Hachimura, the first-round pick last season from Gonzaga, had his best game of the series, with 20 points and 13 rebounds. His big moment came when he hit a three to extend the Wizards lead to 118-112 with 45.8 seconds left.
The Wizards also had to overcome losing sharpshooter Davis Bertans, who left the game for good after suffering a right calf strain in the third quarter. Bertans was having his best game of the series, with 15 points while shooting 4-for-7, including 3-for-6 from deep.
Bertans is listed as out for Game 5.
With Bertans sidelined, that will put even more pressure on the Beal and Westbrook to score and shoot more efficiently.
One question that Brooks must be pondering is, what happens if his two guards play at an All-Star level together?
In this series, they have had only one strong game collectively. Not surprisingly, that was the only other game in which Washington was competitive, a 125-118 loss in Game 1. Beal and Westbrook combined for 49 points and shot 20-for-40. Yet there was a downside to that performance since they were 1-for-8 from beyond the arc. And they each committed six turnovers.
While Beal is averaging 29.5 points this series, he is shooting just 5-for-25 from deep (20%). Westbrook is also shooting 20% (3-for-15).
To both players’ credit, they have helped in other ways. On Monday, Westbrook had his 12th career playoff triple-double, with 19 points, 21 rebounds and 14 assists. Beal made 7-of-8 free throws. For the series, he has connected on 21-of-26 foul shots (80.8%).
In Game 4, the two combined for 11 turnovers, seven by Beal. Both were again trying to do too much, thus leading to the high turnover totals.
If there is a game in which the turnovers are low and the shooting percentage is high, the Wizards will be competitive.
NBA teams are 141-0 when leading 3-0 in a series, so the odds aren’t exactly in Washington’s favor. But at least the Wizards are still alive and can dream.
“We talked amongst the group, ‘Let’s get back to Philly,’” Brooks said about the team’s mindset heading into Game 4.
There is a similar mindset entering Game 5.
“Now we want to get back to D.C.,” Brooks said referring to a potential Game 6 that, if necessary, would be Friday at Capital One Arena. “We still have a tall order for that to happen, but it gives us a chance. With the way we played [Monday], we just have to duplicate that, and hopefully we can make some shots along the way.”