PHILADELPHIA — The Philadelphia 76ers didn’t need MVP finalist Joel Embiid to end the Washington Wizards’ season in Game 5 of the first-round playoff series. His services were unavailable Wednesday night because of a knee injury, but the Eastern Conference’s top seed hardly missed a beat.
The 76ers simply turned to 35-year-old Dwight Howard to dunk and hang from rims, stirring the bench into a frenzy during a 129-112 clinching victory. They relied on Tyrese Maxey to drive for layups and get the crowd at Wells Fargo Arena on its feet. They had Furkan Korkmaz to drill their 3-pointers.
And all that was after Tobias Harris and Seth Curry had combined to score 48 points through three quarters.
The Wizards ended their season with a 4-1 series loss to a Philadelphia team that was deeper, more consistent and more energized than Washington — even without its best player.
The Wizards, who were without 3-point specialist Davis Bertans (right calf strain), have relied on their role players stepping up to turn in star performances in support of centerpieces Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook.
But in front of a sellout crowd of 15,523, Beal and Westbrook were chucking up shots by themselves, receiving only piecemeal help. That, plus 15 turnovers, put the lid on a tumultuous season that leaves Washington with a handful of questions heading into summer vacation.
None more important than the futures of Beal and Wizards coach Scott Brooks.
Beal, 27, becomes a free agent a year from now when his two-year, $72 million extension from 2019 runs out but could ask for a trade before then. Although the all-star guard expressed no interest in leaving the team throughout the season, according to multiple people with knowledge of Beal’s situation, he made it clear at the start of the year that he wanted the Wizards to prove they could be a winning organization.
Which creates the question of whether a Game 5 loss in a first-round series enough?
Brooks, 55, is certainly hoping so after what was at times an excruciating year during which the Wizards had seven players test positive for the coronavirus in January and lost starting center Thomas Bryant to an anterior cruciate ligament tear.
The coach wrapped up the final season of his five-year deal by leading Washington through a stunning turnaround in the latter half of the season that made the team one of the most compelling stories in the league for a time. When asked if Brooks had done enough to warrant a new deal or contract extension at a news conference last month, owner Ted Leonsis demurred, saying only that “everyone in the organization” was pleased the Wizards made it to the play-in tournament but he was focused on the playoffs.
Wednesday’s Game 5 stayed tight until the third quarter.
Philadelphia grabbed a double-digit lead for the first time near the end of the period, by which point it looked prepared to settle in for a shootout. The buckets came fast and furious, first a layup from Ben Simmons to push the lead to 11 with 1:05 left in the third, countered by a jumper from Rui Hachimura. Howard slammed a dunk and Ish Smith responded with a 3 only for Korkmaz to answer with a 3 of his own.
By then, a familiar issue had crept in: Beal and Westbrook were the only players shooting at volume, and even their considerable firepower couldn’t match Philadelphia’s. Washington ended up shooting 49.4 percent from the field, including an impressive 40 percent from 3, but it wasn’t enough.
Beal, who led the Wizards with 32 points on a 10-for-23 shooting night from the field, had three pivotal turnovers in the quarter.
Westbrook, playing for the third straight game on a right ankle sprain, ended the game with 24 points 7-for-20 shooting from the field. He added 10 assists and eight rebounds. Hachimura worked his way to 21 points but his scoring came too late in the game to help the Wizards seize momentum when it mattered.
Embiid missed the game with a lateral meniscus tear in his right knee and is listed as day-to-day, with Philadelphia coach Doc Rivers adding before the game that he is hopeful that Embiid could return during the playoffs. The Sixers will meet the Atlanta Hawks in the conference semifinals after Atlanta eliminated New York in five games.
Curry stepped up in his stead to score 30 points on a 10-for-17 shooting performance, and Harris added 28.
Simmons chipped in 19 points and the 76ers bench, including Howard (12 points, eight rebounds), Maxey (13 points) and Korkmaz (10 points) scored 40.