Game Review | Streak Stymied in D.C.
A good amount of basketball still remains in the 2017-2018 season, but there was no doubt that there was a heightened sense of importance surrounding Sunday’s match-up at Capital One Arena.
Having benefited from some help earlier in the day courtesy of their brethren from around the rest of the league, the 76ers took the floor in the nation’s capital with a chance to claim a share of fourth-place in the Eastern Conference, which, at the start of the day, had been shared by the Washington Wizards and Indiana Pacers.
The Wizards were the Sixers’ opponent Sunday, so the stakes were obvious, the two clubs separated by just a game in the standings. What began as a tightly-contested affair ended in a 109-94 defeat, as Washington’s collective hot hand proved to be too much.
With Sunday’s loss, the Sixers were denied the franchise’s first eight-game winning streak since March of 2003. It also resulted in a split of their four-game season series with the Wizards, now owners of a 2.0 game lead over the Sixers.
His team playing for the second time in as many nights, Brett Brown understood the Sixers were dealing with challenging circumstances.
“Tonight was always going to be hard,” Brown said. “Coming into Washington on a back-to-back, playing against the Wizards.
“They watched us play last night. They were waiting for us, and they did a really good job.”
After trailing by two points, 30-28, through one quarter, the Sixers watched Washington snap off an 11-2 run to begin the second frame. The Wizards later closed the half on a 19-5 spurt, with Kelly Oubre (19 pts), Otto Porter (23 pts), and Bradley Beal (24 pts) leading the way.
The Sixers were paced by Joel Embiid, who notched 25 points (9-20 fg) and 10 rebounds for his 31st double-double of the season.
Ben Simmons added 16 points (6-12 fg), 8 boards, and 8 assists, while Dario Saric provided plenty of hustle on the second night of a back-to-back, manufacturing 13 points (5-17 fg) and 8 rebounds of his own.
Draining jump shots with regularity throughout Sunday’s tilt, Washington shot 54.4 percent overall, and went a noteworthy 12 for 25 from outside the arc.
The Sixers were held to 36.0 percent shooting, and converted 9 of 33 3-pointers.
“Sometimes, it is hard to explain,” Saric said. “The whole game, I think, we were right on point. It is just about making shots, and not making shots.”
Wizards’ Trio Keys Critical Stretch
John Wall ranks among the top talents in the NBA. Had it not been for a late-January left knee procedure, the point guard would have appeared in his fifth straight All-Star Game.
Impressively, however, Washington has managed to stay afloat without the prolific backcourt speedster. Bradley Beal, the Wizards’ other All-Star, is in the midst of a career year, while other members of the roster have stepped as well.
Two of those players, Kelly Oubre Jr. and Otto Porter, assumed pivotal roles in swinging the scoreboard in Washington’s favor during Sunday’s pivotal second quarter. Oubre was a menace throughout the period, tallying 8 points on 3 for 6 shooting (2-4 3fg). Porter came on strong in the home stretch of the frame, and hit all six of his field goal attempts.
Porter generated 14 of his 23 total points in the final six-plus minutes of the opening half. Beal also closed the second quarter strong, as he, Oubre, and Porter combined for 44 of Washington’s 67 points by intermission.
“When you look at what Oubre did, when you look at what Porter did, and when you look at what Beal did, those are impressive numbers,” Brett Brown said.
Sunday was the latest display of Washington’s resilience in the absence of Wall. The Wizards’ record now stands at 9-3 since his surgery.
“He’s a huge part of the team,” Ben Simmons said of Wall, “but at the same time, they have an All-Star in Bradley Beal. You can’t really take anything away from them. They are a good team, they play together.”
Embiid Center of Attention
At this stage of Joel Embiid’s second season, it’s becoming more and more clear that the All-Star center will eventually reach his numbers, somehow, some way. He entered Sunday’s bout averaging 23.9 points and 11.2 rebounds per game, and finished the evening with 25 and 10, respectively.
Washington, though, seemed satisfied with its defensive efforts on the 7-footer. The Wizards wanted to make Embiid work, regardless of how he fared, and work is what they made him do.
Throughout the game, Washington frequently sent help when Embiid put the ball on the floor, and also relied on rugged veterans Marcin Gortat and Ian Mahinmi to guard the youngster.
“We wanted to do the best to make him take shots over the hand, and not get anything under the basket,” Washington coach Scott Brooks said. “He’s a load down there, and he gets position, and he fights for position. He has good footwork.”
As hard as Embiid battled, especially late in Sunday’s game, he had trouble getting into a rhythm.
Bradley Beal said it was imperative for the Wizards to put Embiid under duress.
“Had to. Had to work for every last one of [his baskets]. We were physical with him, got him off his spot. Even when he caught it down low, we had active hands. For the most part, we did a great job of defending him.”
Over the course a seven-game winning streak that reached its end Sunday in Washington, the Sixers took care of business at home. Six of their victories during the surge came at The Center.
Counting their visit to the nation’s capital, the Sixers will spend seven of their next eight games on the road. The team understands it will need to adjust to changing scenery.
“The last two weeks, we talked all the time about home court advantage, and how it is important to finish with wins at home, how it is important after the Eagles [winning the Super Bowl], after that kind of energy to use it and play at home,” said Dario Saric. “Now that we are away, we need to focus. We need to play away games, too. That is part of the NBA. I hope we will understand how to play, and next game be ready to beat Miami.”
This second-quarter slam from Ben Simmons was certainly a vicious one, but it was Dario Saric who was responsible for making the play happen. The Croatian gave up the body to keep the Sixers’ possession alive, and his point man reaped the rewards.
The Homie with the save, Ben with the jam. pic.twitter.com/XWqZlJtKxx
— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) February 26, 2018
A three-game road trip against Eastern Conference peers also bidding for playoff positioning continues Tuesday in Miami, where the Sixers will go up against the Heat for the third time in less than a month. As of Sunday, Miami was eighth in the standings, 2.5 games behind the Sixers. The Sixers bested the Heat 103-97 on February 2nd, then erased a 24-point margin for an impressive 104-102 come-from-behind Valentine’s Day victory. The Sixers and Miami will link up for a fourth and final time March 8th, also at American Airlines Arena.