PHILADELPHIA — For the first professional sports event in town since the Super Bowl, Philadelphia united to celebrate the Eagles’ big win. The rowdy and the revelers came to a basketball game wearing green football jerseys and lifelike dog masks.
As the showcased NBA players hustled up and down the Wells Fargo Center floor, fans spontaneously replaced their ‘Trust The Process’ catchphrase with “E-A-G-L-E-S!” chants.
Tuesday night served as the prelude to the championship parade and the Washington Wizards could do little to stop this celebration.
Inside this hornet’s nest of joy, the 76ers defeated Washington, 115-102. The result ended Washington’s five-game winning streak, the longest of the season.
The Wizards (31-23) shot poorly at the start and had to play the role of party piñata for the rest of the night.
“It might have affected them going out,” said Wizards forward Markieff Morris, who hails from Philly and though he’s a diehard Dallas Cowboys fan is happy for his home town.
“They played with a lot of energy,” Morris continued. “We missed a lot shots early in the beginning and that first quarter really did it for us.”
Bradley Beal embodied the team’s early shooting woes and didn’t score his first points until four minutes remained in the second quarter. But as Washington attempted to rally from a 22-point deficit, Beal looked unstoppable. Beal, who played all but one minute and five seconds of the second half, hit a 17-foot jumper late in the third quarter that cut the lead to 89-82.
The Wizards would get no closer in the fourth quarter. That’s when center Joel Embiid reminded the Eagles faithful they also came to see him, too.
Embiid, a first-time all-star and hybrid big man who can post up and shoot jumpers, made a three-pointer from the top of the key, extending Philadelphia’s lead back up to 16. Washington remained at arm’s length the rest of the way.
For the game, Philadelphia shot 56 percent overall and 14 of 28 from three-point range while the Wizards missed 20 of 27 attempts from the arc.
“It seemed like every time we cut it to seven or eight, we would miss a wide-open three and they would come down and make one,” Coach Scott Brooks said. “Give them credit. They fought, moved the ball and attacked us offensively in that first quarter.”
While Beal commanded the Wizards with 30 points (12 of 22), seven rebounds and five assists, Embiid led the Sixers with 27 points and 12 rebounds.
“It was a tough one for us tonight,” Beal said. “The first quarter hurt us. We got down to a large deficit. . . . We played the whole game fighting and clawing back.”
Before the game, Sixers Coach Brett Brown sensed the city’s euphoria would manifest itself in the crowd, and he wanted that emotion to extend to his team.
“We want that, we want to have a playoff game here,” Brown explained. “When you feel the city, when you watch that team, when you live in this city, you recognize the stories of perseverance and you recognize that here we are, too, right across the street. We want to share some of that.”
And the Sixers (26-25) captured it immediately following the opening tip.
Ben Simmons controlled the tempo for four quick assists, Dario Saric cruised into open lanes in scoring three of his four consecutive buckets at the rim and for a moment the crowd forgot about football and leaped to its feet as T.J. McConnell drilled a three-pointer and opened a 21-point lead.
Washington’s continued the strong ball movement that had been a hallmark of its five-game winning streak, but the Wizards’ shooting woes defined the opening quarter as Washington’s offense remained stagnant on three assisted shots. Otto Porter Jr.’s bucket at the 3:29 mark snapped a 16-0 run, but the Wizards finished with only eight field goals and shot 33.3 percent in the quarter.
The schedule might explain Washington’s stumble at the start as the team played on the second straight night to end this trip.
The Wizards last played in consecutive games on Jan. 12-13 and they have gone thoroughly untested in this challenge: tied for playing in the second fewest back-to-backs (seven) in the NBA.
As the game went on even as Washington’s shooting improved and the lead dwindled, fans still broke out into chants to honor quarterback Nick Foles and booed lustily whenever a stooge in a New England Patriots jersey was shown on the scoreboard.
The final applause belonged to the hosts — and the football team that brought home a title 48 hours earlier.
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