A single game is hardly a sample size, but Washington looked as if it finally settled in Wednesday in a 107-98 loss to Philadelphia. It was its fourth straight loss at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex but undoubtedly the best team-wide outing. The Wizards weathered a somewhat disjointed first half to stay within reach of the 76ers until Joel Embiid took off with a dominant fourth quarter. Even then, Washington played with a type of unruffled urgency.
Embiid led all scorers with 30 points, making 11 of 20 attempts and pulling in 11 rebounds.
“I thought we were locked in all game long. That’s one of the most talented teams in this league. They’ve got everything you need,” Wizards Coach Scott Brooks said. “We battled with them every step of the way — we had about two or three minutes at the end of the third and beginning of the fourth where we just didn’t make any plays for one another and we had some mistakes on the defensive end.
“I’m proud of our guys. We’re making every game a fourth-quarter game. We’re trying to figure out how to win some of these games, and it’s hard.”
The Wizards’ bright spots came again from Thomas Bryant, Jerome Robinson and Troy Brown Jr. Robinson had 19 points off the bench in an aggressive showing, making five of his 11 field goal attempts one game after Brooks said he needed to see more makes from the young guard. Brown had 17 points, eight rebounds and four assists, flaunting his passing ability perhaps above all else.
But Bryant shined brightest, especially for his assertive work on the defensive end. The center had 19 points and a team-high 10 rebounds for his third straight double-double — the first time he has done so since 2019 — and wouldn’t be bullied by Embiid.
“Trying to make some stuff difficult for him,” Bryant said of the Philadelphia star.
“It was his best defensive game I think I’ve ever seen him play,” Brooks said of Bryant. “He needs to continue to focus on that end. We talk to him about it and show film on it, and he steps up. He’s getting better. He’s a young player that’s developing. Sometimes we want it to be right now. It takes time. I thought tonight was his best defense where he was aware, he was anticipating, his hands were up and he jumped. When you just do those few things, you give yourself a chance to get a defensive stop at the rim. . . . He was outstanding pretty much on both ends.”
Washington struggled to find its rhythm on offense early. Robinson stepped up just as he did in Monday’s loss to the Pacers, getting to the free throw line often and leading the team with 11 points at halftime.
Rui Hachimura scored only one point in the first half going up against Philadelphia’s sturdier bigs — the rookie forward grabbed eight rebounds but faded into the background on offense with eight points — and Bryant flailed early as well, making just one of his six field goal attempts.
After halftime, the Wizards jogged back onto the court looking as if they had been shocked to attention. They played with energy on defense — when they were down two with just over eight minutes left in the quarter, three bodies were around the rim eager to collect the rebound off a missed layup from Embiid. Isaac Bonga grabbed it, starting point guard Ish Smith let fly with a corner three on the other end, and after a miss, Brown lunged for the rebound and sank a short-range jumper to tie the game at 58.
The Wizards strung together a handful of defensive stops and even grabbed a lead until Embiid took control. He closed the third quarter on a seven-point streak that put Philadelphia ahead for good, even as forward Ben Simmons left the court with an apparent left knee injury.
Simmons didn’t return for the fourth quarter. Tobias Harris contributed to Philadelphia’s scoring load, backing up Embiid with 17 points.
“Step in the right direction,” Bryant said. “Keep improving every day, that’s my main thing. Especially on the defensive end.”
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