Washington (30-35) finished Monday just a half-game behind Indiana (30-34) for the No. 9 spot. If the season ended Monday, the No. 10 seed Wizards would first have to win a game in Indianapolis and then beat the loser of the 7-8 matchup (currently Boston-Charlotte) to earn a spot in the traditional 16-team playoff field.
Monday’s game was the Wizards’ second win over the Pacers with just one regular season meeting remaining, giving Washington the head-to-head tiebreaker should the teams finish with the same record.
“It was a big game,” Wizards Coach Scott Brooks said. “We try to focus on — I’ve always coached that way: Every game was a big game. In a normal season, you have 82 tests and you either get an A or you get an F, and I’ve always been that way. You focus on the next game.”
If Brooks had his blinders on, Westbrook at least appeared to be aware of the game’s importance, playing with a fury uncommon even for him. The point guard logged career triple-double No. 178 with more than 10 minutes to play in the third quarter. He finished with 14 points, 24 assists (tying a career high) and 21 rebounds (setting a career high) to pull within three triple-doubles of matching Oscar Robertson’s NBA record with seven games to play.
It was just the third 20-rebound, 20-assist game in NBA history. Westbrook already had one. Wilt Chamberlain owns the other.
“My job is to be able to create and make it easy for [my teammates],” said Westbrook, who also revealed Monday that the injury hampering him early in the season was a torn quadriceps muscle. “To be honest, me personally, I feel like I am the best playmaker in this league because I’m able to do things that I don’t think nobody else can do. I take pride in playmaking and passing and making my teammates better. I’m grateful to have a bunch of teammates that make my job so much easier.”
Brooks, who has become Westbrook’s most ardent supporter this season, stepped on his soapbox again Monday and said Westbrook sits at No. 2 on his all-time list of best guards, behind only Magic Johnson.
“Everybody’s described him so many different ways. I’ve been fortunate to see him for eight years do a lot of things that are pretty much superhuman at times,” Brooks said. “Point guards don’t do what he does. They’re not built that way. There might be some that probably shoot better, there might be some that probably can do certain things better, but there’s nobody in the history of the game that can do what he does throughout the stat sheet.”
With the former MVP focused on directing the offense, the rest of the Wizards feasted — especially at the rim. Washington shot 61.2 percent, finished with nine players in double figures and set a franchise record with 50 assists, becoming the first team since the Phoenix Suns in 1990 to have 50 assists in a game.
The previous franchise high was set in the organization’s inaugural season, when the Wizards were the Chicago Packers and they tallied 45 assists in a game against the St. Louis Hawks in February 1962.
Hachimura finished with a team-high 27 points, and Bradley Beal added 26.
When asked if anything surprised him about Westbrook’s game, the always understated Hachimura took a moment to stretch, and think, before answering the question about his mentor.
“Um, I feel like — it’s crazy. He’s a point guard, but he can do everything,” Hachimura said. “Literally, like, rebound — 20 rebounds is like, it’s not normal, you know? It’s not like a normal player can do that. And he does it every game.”
With Malcolm Brogdon (right hamstring soreness) out of the lineup, Caris LeVert had 33 points and Domantas Sabonis scored 32 to lead Indiana.
The Wizards dominated from the start and poured in a season-high 82 points in the first half, with Westbrook at the center of an offense that churned out assists. His most impressive one came with less than four minutes to play in the second quarter when he grabbed a rebound and in the same motion heaved a full-court chest pass to Beal for a layup.
With that, the Wizards had their first double-digit lead and started to pull away, their breakneck pace forcing Indiana into missed shots and turnovers. Sabonis and LeVert scored 19 points apiece in the first half but couldn’t keep up with Washington’s balanced offense — everyone was a scoring threat as long as Westbrook had the ball in his hands.