After the Philadelphia 76ers lost NBA MVP finalist Joel Embiid to what the team called a sore right knee late in the first quarter Monday night, they lost their lead — and their chance at the franchise’s first playoff sweep in 36 years.
With Embiid gone for most of Game 4, Bradley Beal’s 27 points, Russell Westbrook’s 12th career playoff triple-double and Washington’s strategy of fouling Ben Simmons whenever possible down the stretch all helped the Wizards beat the 76ers 122-114 to cut Philadelphia’s series edge to 3-1.
“Each guy thought they had to win the game for us,” 76ers coach Doc Rivers said about what happened to his team’s offence after Embiid departed. “You’ve still got to play right. … Tonight we didn’t play right, on either end.”
Tobias Harris, who led the Sixers with 21 points and 13 rebounds, summed up his club’s situation this way: “It’s not the end of the world.”
“Obviously,” Simmons said, “we need Joel to win. He’s a big part of this team.”
Game 5 of the best-of-seven Eastern Conference first-round series is Wednesday at Philadelphia.
Won’t be easy for that one to be as eventful as this one was, including the third-quarter sight of a spectator running out of the stands and onto the court before being slammed to the ground by a security guard — the latest example of NBA Fans Gone Wild.
“It’s actually embarrassing,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks said. “Unacceptable.”
Nothing had as much of an effect on the outcome and, potentially, the rest of this postseason for Philadelphia, the East’s No. 1 seed, as what happened to Embiid, who came into the night averaging better than a point per minute in the series.
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In Game 3’s 29-point win for the 76ers, for example, he produced a playoff career-high 36 points in 28 minutes against the Wizards, who needed to go through the play-in round just to get the No. 8 seed.
But the centre headed to the locker room late in the first quarter after taking a hard fall behind the baseline when his shot was blocked by Robin Lopez. Embiid tried to play on, wincing and leaning over during breaks in play, before checking out eventually and limping off.
He never returned and finished with eight points and six rebounds in 11 minutes.
“We took advantage of what was on the floor,” Beal said.
Philadelphia led by as many as 11 in the opening period but that was down to 61-60 at halftime.
That’s when Washington basically took the ball out of Philadelphia’s hands, sending Simmons to the line repeatedly down the stretch with a version of the old Hack-a-Shaq strategy that Shaquille O’Neal used to face.
“Obviously that’s what they’re going to do. That’s what they should do,” Rivers said. “And I’m OK with that.”
Simmons came into the night 0 for 9 on free throws in the series and was 1 for 3 for the night before Hack-a-Ben went into full effect — he made 1 of 2 tries each of the final four times he stepped to the line to end up 5 for 11.
Asked by a reporter about keeping Simmons in the game while Washington repeatedly fouled him, Rivers replied: “You want me to take Ben Simmons off the floor? No. He’s pretty good. I’ll pass on that suggestion.”
Rui Hachimura had 20 points and 13 rebounds for the Wizards, including a corner 3 off an assist from Beal to put the home team up 118-112 with 45.6 seconds left.
“He’s growing up, right in front of our eyes,” Brooks said about 2019 first-round draft pick Hachimura.
As the clock wound down, a chant of “Wiz in 7!” arose from some in the crowd of 10,665 — about 50 per cent of capacity and the most allowed under current coronavirus restrictions.
Jazz best Grizzlies, taking commanding 3-1 lead
Donovan Mitchell scored 30 points, and the top-seeded Utah Jazz grabbed a 3-1 lead Monday night by holding off the Memphis Grizzlies 120-113.
A year ago in the bubble in Florida, the Jazz also had a 3-1 lead only to lose the first-round series to Denver in seven games. Mitchell said the Jazz are in the same situation now. This time, they’re happy for the win but know the job’s not done.
“We have to go there and take care of homecourt back in Utah, and I think that’s where our head is at,” Mitchell said.
All-Star Rudy Gobert scored 13 of his 17 points in the third quarter. Jordan Clarkson, the NBA’s 6th man of the year winner, scored 24. Bojan Bogdanovic added 13, Mike Conley had 11.
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Ja Morant, who averaged 33.7 points through the first three games, scored 23 and had 12 assists for Memphis. Dillon Brooks and Jaren Jackson Jr. each added 21, De’Anthony Melton had all 15 of his points in the fourth quarter and Jonas Valanciunas finished with 14 points and 12 rebounds.
Memphis opened the fourth quarter on a 12-2 run, taking advantage as the Jazz missed their first nine shots from the floor. Melton hit 5 of 7 shots in the period — including a trio of 3s. His 3 with 5:30 left got the Grizzlies within 106-104.
Conley, with former Grizzlies teammates Zach Randolph and Tony Allen on hand, ended the Jazz’ scoring drought with a 3. He also blocked a jumper by Morant and then hit another 3.
“He’s kind of sneaky quiet,” Utah coach Quin Snyder said of Conley. “He whispers, but you can hear him. I think he impacts the game so many ways
The Jazz went 3 of 16 in the fourth but 11 of 12 at the free throw line. Mitchell hit all six and finished 12 of 13 at the line.
Memphis had another raucous, loud crowd waving growl towels that proclaimed “I’m On My Grizzly” quoting rapper J. Cole.
North Courts | Andrew Wiggins commits to Canada for last-chance qualifier:
The Grizzlies had their best start to a game in this series, scoring the first four points and leading by as much as four. Better yet, Utah never led by more than five and was up only 34-31 after the first quarter.
Yet Memphis, the youngest team in this postseason, never led by more than four. Utah showed off its talent and experience answering each Grizzlies’ run.
“There’s nothing to be frustrated about when you’re giving great fight against the best team in the NBA,” Memphis coach Taylor Jenkins said. “They just have a response for everything. We’re giving everything we’ve got.”
The teams swapped the lead 11 times with seven ties in the first half. The Jazz used a 13-2 run to take their biggest lead at 59-50 on back-to-back 3s by Mitchell before Morant scored the final four of the half to trim Utah’s lead to 59-54.
The Grizzlies got within 72-71 with 7:03 left in the third. Gobert’s three-point play started a 13-2 spurt, and Utah led 100-87 after three.