The Washington Wizards were supposed to win Game 1. They had all the elements to pull off an incredible upset against a powerhouse Philadelphia 76ers side that was expected to blow them out of the water.
The Sixers were freezing cold from the 3-point line in the first half. They made just three triples on 17 attempts from deep. Plenty of them were wide open, too. It didn’t help that Joel Embiid was plagued by foul trouble the entire way, playing just five minutes each in the first two quarters. If not for Tobias Harris playing out of his mind, their side should’ve been down big in the early stages.
The Wizards, on the other hand, had everything going their way.
Bradley Beal couldn’t be contained even by elite defenders Matisse Thybulle or Ben Simmons, as the NBA’s second-leading scorer dropped 33 points on 13-of-23 shooting from the field. Alex Len of all people outscored Embiid 10-9 before halftime in the matchup that the Wizards were supposed to concede by a mile. Davis Bertans, the Wizards’ ultimate hot-or-cold player on their roster, decided to show up in Game 1. He finished with 14 points, including four huge missiles from deep at critical junctures to sway momentum throughout the game. Washington shot a scorching-hot 55.7% from the field and 40% from 3-point range.
If they were going to beat the Philadelphia 76ers, they had to take this one. But the missing element for the Washington Wizards was evidently Russell Westbrook.
On paper, Westbrook didn’t appear to play that bad. His stat line still looked relatively decent with 16 points, 14 assists, and five boards for the Wizards. But watching the game, you could just see how impactful Westbrook’s lapses were on both sides of the floor.
He was taking shots completely out of rhythm. As Bradley Beal tried to generate offense from thin air, so did Russ. But one star is a silky-smooth scorer who nearly outdid Stephen Curry himself, also dropping 60 points on these same Sixers earlier in the season. The other one is, to put it kindly, not that.
Westbrook was bricking shots badly off the board and running into defenders when there clearly wasn’t a lane for him to sneak through. He also had several mental mistakes on the defensive end. Russ wound up leaving his man way too often, resulting in backdoor cuts and easy layups for the Sixers.
The final nail in the coffin for Washington was the controversial out of bounds call.
NBA Twitter can debate all night about whether or not he actually stepped out of bounds. But the fact is, he could’ve avoided the situation altogether if he just made the smart play and passed it to a Wizards teammate.
Russell Westbrook on whether his shoe was out of bounds in the fourth quarter:
“It don’t matter now.”@FortyEightMins | #HereTheyCome pic.twitter.com/CstvXvnNyP
— 𝙲𝚑𝚛𝚒𝚜 𝚆. 𝙲𝚛𝚘𝚞𝚜𝚎 🏙 (@ChrisWCrouse) May 23, 2021
As a die-hard Wizards fan, my heart aches after this one. Washington showed so much poise and capitalized on opportunities that presented themselves in Game 1.
But Russell Westbrook just looked out of his element, the same way he did during Washington’s play-in tournament loss against the Boston Celtics. All we can hope for is for him to bounce back in a big way in Game 2.