“I thought we competed throughout the game,” Coach Scott Brooks said. “I saw a lot of good things from everybody.”
Rookie Rui Hachimura thoroughly outplayed veteran all-star Al Horford with 27 points and seven rebounds. Although rarely matched up, the diminutive Ish Smith put up comparable numbers (19 points and eight assists) to Sixers 6-foot-10 point guard Ben Simmons. And Davis Bertans seared his imprint on the game with a performance for his personal scrapbook.
Bertans made his first eight shots, including six three-pointers. By the fourth quarter, he had a career-high seven three-pointers and finished with 25 points (9 of 16 from the field).
“I really don’t think about it, especially when I’m out there,” said Bertans, who matched his previous high of six threes before halftime. “I just keep being aggressive and especially when I make shots, I try to get more.”
Although they lacked three regulars in Isaiah Thomas, Jordan McRae and CJ Miles, the all-around work — from Moritz Wagner and Ian Mahinmi’s defensive effort against all-star center Joel Embiid to Bradley Beal collecting his first point-rebound double-double of the season, 26 and 10 — helped the Wizards (7-13) to an impressive victory against a team considered to be a conference contender. Philadelphia dropped to 15-7.
“When you have injured players, it’s obviously tougher to win games and when John Wall was out to start the season, we knew that we were going to have a tough go at it and then we had some of these other injuries,” Brooks said ahead of the matchup. “But we don’t talk about it. The players don’t talk about it. We have opportunities. That’s what I tell the guys, we have opportunities.”
Brooks made this statement in light of a recent influx of bad news on the injury front. Just 20 games into the schedule and attrition has emerged as Washington’s biggest opponent.
The team welcomed back Wagner, who missed the previous two games with a left ankle sprain, and Mahinmi made his season debut after spending the previous months recovering from an Achilles’ injury. On Tuesday, Mahinmi knew he would play, somewhat accelerating his rehabilitation to help the Wizards’ hurting frontcourt.
“Obviously, we’re down a lot of bodies,” said Mahinmi, who played 13 minutes and finished with seven points, five rebounds and four fouls. “We’re going through a rough time right now – injury [and] health-wise.
“I wanted to come in and impact the game the best way I could,” Mahinmi continued.
However, several other players missed the game.
Miles had a procedure Wednesday on his left wrist, and McRae underwent a second surgery on his damaged right ring finger. Also, in a surprising development, Thomas (left calf strain) was placed on the injury list about a half-hour before tip-off. Thomas had spent a portion of pregame inside a massage room getting worked on before the decision was announced.
Without two regular starters in their point guard and center Thomas Bryant, who is expected to miss nearly a month while nursing a right foot stress reaction, the Wizards shortened the rotation. Bertans and Hachimura kept finding their spots, however, making depth a nonissue.
“Of course, we miss the guys that can’t play,” Bertans said. “But at the same time, everybody’s ready to step up.”
The pair formed an effective duo, with the rookie operating from midrange and closer while Bertans thrived from beyond the red-painted arc. They combined for 34 of the team’s 40 points in the second quarter with Hachimura starting things by hitting a step-back jumper.
“He’s like a seven or eight-year vet,” Brooks said. “He just chips away at the game every time. That guy, he’s a winner. He just plays the right way.”
Bertans followed Hachimura’s make by running off a screen to find a slither of breathing space for a three — a common theme for the period.
Bertans dizzied his defenders, caught passes and turned them into three points so often that Sixers wing Mike Scott decided to face guard him 22 feet from the rim. That tactic didn’t work either. While idling in the corner, Bertans flashed behind Scott and cut to the rim for a reverse layup that gave the Wizards a 60-53 lead with 47.1 seconds remaining in the half.
“Some of it you shake your head and you give Bertans a lot of credit. Some of the shots that he was making you give him some credit,” Sixers Coach Brett Brown said. “When you go back and you do coach stuff, and you look at it, I think the separation that he received was too careless. That’s what the game was telling you, you got it going. I didn’t think that we responded from a sense of urgency standpoint like we needed to.”
Before intermission, Washington stretched the margin to 10 points. Although Bertans lost his perfect touch — he went 0 for 4 in the third quarter — the Wizards’ lead would reach 14 points when Smith knocked down a short jumper at the 7:58 mark.
Philadelphia rallied in the fourth quarter behind Tobias Harris (33 points overall, 11 in the fourth) but never trimmed its deficit under five. Embiid still enjoyed a monster statistical game with 26 points and 21 rebounds but his numbers didn’t ruin the Wizards. At the final buzzer, Beal giddily attempted a spinning dunk. It clanked, one of the few things the Wizards tried against one of the elite teams of the East that didn’t work out.
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