By Peter Gleason
The Sixers were without the great Jo Jo Embiid in Washington and it showed!
The Wizards checked all the boxes in a 109-93 rout of the Sixers last night that gave them their 11th straight win at home, their longest such streak since the 1988-89 season.
John Wall scored a team-high 25 points and Bradley Beal added 20 as every starter reached double figures. Marcin Gortat reached the 200th double-double of his career (12 points and 10 rebounds) and finished a plus-24 while on the floor.
The Wizards (20-19) rallied from a 13-point first-half deficit, the 10th time they have overcome a double-digit margin this season to win.
Emboldened by the hundreds of fans who traveled to Washington, the 76ers built that lead through the first quarter. Chants of “trust the process,” a reference to center Joel Embiid and former general manager Sam Hinkie, filled the arena when a Philly player stood at the foul line — and those serenades happened often, because Washington sent the Sixers to the line 11 times in the opening quarter.
It wasn’t long before the home crowd of 17,880 got behind its team, however, as the Wizards improved to 16-6 at Verizon Center overall.
Although the Wizards held the Sixers to 37 points in the second half, the comeback began with their shot-making. In a stretch spanning the final 5½ minutes of the second quarter to the start of the third, Washington connected on 15 of 20 shots.
Wall’s sore pinkie finger didn’t seem to affect him during a heat-check run. On Wednesday against the Boston Celtics, Wall missed 17 shots and scored a season-low nine points, then revealed how he has been dealing with soreness involving his pinkie and left wrist.
Near the end of the third quarter, he made three three-pointers in a row. After hitting one of his deep shots and forcing Philadelphia to call a timeout, Wall turned to the bench, crouching low and swinging his arms back and forth. He was feeling good — and so were the Wizards, who closed the quarter with an 86-71 lead.
The comeback saved the Wizards from a second loss to the 76ers, playing again without Embiid, who has not been playing in the second legs of back-to-back games.
Instead, second-year center Jahlil Okafor earned the start. Okafor had fallen out of the Sixers’ rotation and had sat out the previous four games, so coach Brett Brown hoped the playing time would jolt his former No. 3 pick.
Asked what he expected of Okafor, Brown said: “Just for him to remember who he is. To be reminded of his pedigree. To relax. For him to completely understand that we all look forward to putting him on the floor and helping him play NBA basketball again.”
Okafor showed traces of promise while playing against the Wizards’ frontcourt. He drew two shooting fouls against Gortat before four minutes had expired in the opening quarter. Then, Okafor forced another pair out of reserve center Jason Smith and sent little-used backup forward Andrew Nicholson to the bench with his second foul early in the second quarter.
Through the first half, Okafor attempted seven free throws and dominated inside (6 of 9 attempts from the floor). As Okafor dominated the interior while Ersan Ilyasova controlled the perimeter. Ilyasova scored 18 points and knocked down 7 of 9 shots, including all three from beyond the arc.
“The first half we weren’t defending at all, we weren’t physical and we didn’t accept the challenge,” Beal said. “In the second half, we just turned it around.”