Recap: Wizards clinch playoff spot with 142-115 win over Pacers
FINAL: Wizards 142 | Pacers 115
Wizards: Bradley Beal (25), Russell Westbrook (18), Rui Hachimura (18)
Pacers: Malcolm Brogdon (24), Domantas Sabonis (19), Doug McDermott (13), Kelan Martin (13)
With their season on the line, the Wizards dominated the Pacers 142-115 on Wednesday night at Capital One Arena in each teams’ second game of the Play-In Tournament. With the win, Washington advances to the playoffs as the eight-seed, setting up a matchup with the one-seed Sixers. Bradley Beal scored a game-high 25 points and Russell Westbrook totaled 18 points, eight rebounds and 15 assists. Washington’s 27-point win was two points shy of their largest margin of victory of the season.
A balanced offensive attack in the first quarter helped Washington jump out to an early lead. Four of the five Wizards starters scored in the first five minutes while Westbrook, the only scoreless starter in that time, assisted on three of the team’s first five field goals. Rui Hachimura scored eight points in the first quarter, including threes on back-to-back possessions, to lead the way for Washington. As a team, the Wizards shot 12-22 (.522) from the field, 4-7 (.571) from three and led 30-29 heading to the second. Washington dominated the second quarter, reeling off a 16-0 run that turned a 34-34 tie into a 50-34 Wizards lead. Five different players scored in that time while the defense held Indiana without a point for nearly four minutes. Daniel Gafford’s presence in the paint fueled the defensive run. He recorded five blocks in the first half, becoming the first Wizards player to do so in over 10 years. Indiana managed to slow the Washington momentum late in the second quarter, but never got back within 12 points. Washington led 66-52 at the break.
“(Gafford) was great,” Westbrook said postgame. “His energy, his athleticism is key for us when he’s playing at that level and protecting the basket. He was huge for us tonight and he did and amazing job.”
After a standout defensive performance in the first half, the Wizards’ offense put on a clinic in the third quarter. Washington shot 15-20 (.750) from the field, 6-8 (.750) from 3-point range and 12-14 (.857) from the free throw line on the way to 48 points. That point total matched the Wizards’ season high for a single quarter set on January 3 against the Nets. A 22-8 run, capped by a Beal 3-pointer with 4:07 left in the third, put Washington up 30. The Wizards turned to their bench to put the game away in the fourth quarter. Anthony Gill scored 10 points on 4-4 (1.000) from the field and 2-2 (1.000) from three to lead the way in the final frame. With 9:19 left in the game, Domantas Sabonis, who averaged 32.3 points, 14.3 rebounds and 9.3 assists per game in his first three matchups against the Wizards this season, fouled out. He still managed to record a triple-double, totaling 19 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists. Dating back to the regular season, the Wizards have now won five consecutive games at Capital One Arena.
THREE THINGS TO KNOW
Beal leads Wizards’ impressive offensive performance
In his last matchup with the Pacers earlier this month, Beal scored 50 points before exiting the game early with a hamstring injury. After struggling to get in rhythm offensively in his first two games back from the injury, Beal was back to looking like himself against Indiana. He scored just nine points in the first half, but erupted for 16 in the third quarter, helping put the Pacers away after the Wizards’ dominant second quarter. Beal was efficient, hitting 9-17 (.529) from the field after shooting 34.6% on 26.0 shots per game in his last two outings, and was able to sit for the entire fourth quarter with the Wizards up big.
As a team, the Wizards shot 54-93 (.581) from the field and 14-28 (.500) from 3-point range. In four games against the Pacers this season, the Wizards averaged 140.3 points per game, winning all four matchups.
All-around performance from Westbrook
Westbrook came into Thursday’s game averaging 27.3 points, 18.0 rebounds and 20.0 assists per game in three matchups with the Pacers this season. He wasted no time getting back to his do-it-all ways against Indiana – and looked prime to record another triple-double early on. He totaled 15 points, eight rebounds and nine assists in the first half alone. He finished the night with 18 points, eight rebounds and 15 assists. While Westbrook didn’t hit the same benchmarks he’d hit against the Pacers earlier this season, he finished the night plus-30 in 32 minutes of action and turned the ball over only three times.
Win clinches playoff matchup with top-seeded Sixers
The Wizards’ upcoming first-round matchup with the Sixers, which begins this Sunday afternoon in Philadelphia, will be the team’s first playoff appearance since the 2017-18 season and caps a remarkable turnaround after a slow start to the season. Washington battled injuries to both star guards, season-ending injuries to Thomas Bryant and Deni Avdija and a 13-day mid-season hiatus due to health and safety protocols. On April 6, the Wizards were 17-32 and ranked 13th in the Eastern Conference. In late-March, the Wizards had just a 0.4% chance to make the playoffs, according to Basketball Reference. They closed the regular season with 17 wins in 23 games, the most in the league in that time, en route to the eight-seed. The win sets up a matchup with a Sixers team that ranks top-five in both defensive rating (107.0) and net rating (5.5) for the season. Washington lost all three games against Philadelphia this season, two of which were decided by single digits. In the teams’ January 6 matchup, Beal scored a career-high 60 points, including 57 in the first three quarters.
“We know it’s a big challenge,” Wizards head coach Scott Brooks said postgame. “They’re a good team. They have the best record in the East for a reason.”
NEXT UP: Wizards at Sixers / Sunday, May 23 / 1:00 P.M. / Wells Fargo Center
HIGHLIGHT OF THE NIGHT
GET THAT SHOT OUTTA HERE pic.twitter.com/WcTgjDuKJt— Washington Wizards (@WashWizards) May 21, 2021