WASHINGTON — The Sixers overcame outside shooting woes and defensive mistakes aplenty Wednesday night to get back in the win column.
As he routinely does, Joel Embiid made everything turn out fine in the end.
He notched 50 points on 19-for-29 shooting, 13 rebounds and seven assists in a 131-126 Sixers victory over the Wizards at Capital One Arena.
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Tyrese Maxey had 26 points and seven assists.
Jordan Poole was Washington’s leading scorer with 23 points. The Wizards, who were down Landry Shamet, Delon Wright, Johnny Davis and Ryan Rollins, dropped to 3-17.
The 13-7 Sixers will face the Hawks on Friday night in Philadelphia. Here are observations on their win Wednesday in D.C.:
Embiid vs. Wizards still a major mismatch
The reigning MVP's ability to overpower opponents was obviously intact.
Embiid, who’d missed the Sixers’ last two games with an illness, scored inside early on with physicality and variety. He profited off of a designed duck-on the game’s first play, drove to the rim for a hoop against Daniel Gafford, and got another lay-in by using a cross screen that caught Gafford off guard.
In the first quarter, Embiid registered 15 of the Sixers' 25 points on 7-for-10 shooting.
He’s often especially enjoyed playing the Wizards. Embiid has now scored 48 or more points in three of his past four games against Washington.
The Wizards still kept pace with the Sixers and eventually earned a lead. The main reason why was the Sixers’ extended game-opening drought from behind the arc.
The team began 0 for 13 from three-point range, and the large majority of those looks were high-quality. This was not a case of the Sixers firing frustrated, tightly contested jumpers and hoping their fortunes would turn. The Sixers’ pace could’ve been better — Washington only committed three first-half turnovers, limiting open-floor, odd-man chances — but the main thing the Sixers did “wrong” offensively was simply miss open jump shots.
The irony was thick when the first half ended with Maxey banking in a buzzer-beater from half court.
“I was kind of on my heels in the first half with some of my threes, which was bad,” Maxey said. “Good shots, but they just didn’t feel right. I was messing with (De'Anthony Melton): I said, ‘I missed four wide-open threes, but I make a half-court shot? So maybe I’ll make some shots in the second half.’ Joel just told me to keep being aggressive in the second half.”
Oubre back, Nurse goes all-bench
All five Sixers who missed the team’s loss Friday to the Celtics were active. Outside of Embiid, the most noteworthy returnee was perhaps Kelly Oubre Jr., who came back from an 11-game absence because of a fractured rib.
Oubre subbed in with 2:15 left in the first quarter. He soon scored two points by sneaking free along the baseline and slamming in a dunk off of a smart Maxey feed.
However, Oubre’s transition back wasn’t seamless. He slashed into the paint early in the second quarter but paid for a momentary hesitation, getting whistled for traveling. Kyle Kuzma blocked an Oubre dunk attempt in the third quarter. It will clearly take time for Oubre to fully restore game-specific intangibles like timing, rhythm, conditioning, and confidence playing through contact.
He was somewhat surprisingly part of an all-bench lineup that Sixers head coach Nick Nurse used to start the second quarter. He described that decision postgame as unique to Wednesday night's circumstances.
“It was just a funny game, because there were no whistles in the first quarter,” Nurse said. “I sent guys up and they couldn’t get in at all until the media (timeout). Then I sent some guys up and they never even got in at the end. So what are you going to do? … We just felt like we should (sub in) the guys we were getting ready to bring in.”
Washington’s bench was superior in the first half and the Wizards grabbed a 10-point lead after dunks by Mike Muscala and Bilal Coulibaly. Oubre’s scoring, athleticism and length should all benefit the bench (if he indeed stays there), but the Sixers will inevitably look sturdier overall when they have starters on the floor.
Maxey was the lone Sixers starter to play the first few minutes of the fourth quarter and the Wizards outscored the Sixers by three points with that mostly-bench group on the court.
Oubre’s play early in the fourth was a big bright spot, though. He threw down a put-back dunk, scored an and-one layup, and seemed more comfortable flying into traffic and attacking in the paint.
“The key word is rhythm. … I was able to catch the pace of the guys and not look back after that,” Oubre said. “This game is about rhythm and this game is about fluid motion — everybody being kind of tied together. I think in the fourth we found our groove a little bit, and it showed.”
In 19 minutes Wednesday, Oubre posted 12 points on 5-for-8 shooting, three rebounds and an assist. He said that he felt good physically and was not on any sort of official minutes restriction.
“It feels amazing, man,” Oubre said of his night as a whole. “It’s a blessing. I’ve been on the couch, in rehab facilities and things like that this past month. So it feels amazing.
“And especially coming off something pretty crazy in my life, to play basketball brings everything home. This is what I do and what I love to do, man. I’m going to smile when I’m doing something I love.”
Sixers finish off a W despite defensive struggles
Throughout the night, the Sixers searched for defensive solutions.
They appeared to mix it up frequently — switching one through four; double teaming on some drives and post-ups; trying different zones. Across the board, the team’s execution was poor. The Sixers had regular breakdowns and costly confusion that gifted Washington easy layups and dunks.
While Nurse's initial impression was that the Wizards were exceptionally efficient on floaters and mid-range attempts, he acknowledged the Sixers did not offer exemplary resistance.
“I think I said to one of the assistants during the first half, ‘Geez, they’re shooting a lot of non-paint twos.’ But still, we weren’t contesting them nearly enough — too much space, nothing from rearview,” Nurse said. “A lot of times you’re saying, ‘We’re going to live with those,’ but you’ve still got to pursue the ball a little bit more.”
A minor silver lining: The Sixers didn’t give the Wizards many points at the foul line. Washington ended the night 8 for 8 at the charity stripe and the Sixers went 29 for 34. Embiid did pick up a technical foul when he disputed a traveling call late in the third quarter, but the Sixers closed the period on a 10-0 run and entered the fourth with a four-point edge.
While the Sixers' defense did not dramatically improve down the stretch, the team ultimately scored enough to avoid a bad loss. Oubre's timely buckets, Embiid's continued dominance and key threes from Maxey and Melton (19 points, five rebounds, four assists) helped the Sixers hold off the Wizards.
“I’m pissed off (about the defense), but then again, the way I see it is that this is really our first game this season playing as a team,” Embiid said. “It’s our first game all together and healthy with the new guys, and with Kelly coming back. So I feel like the rhythm just wasn’t there defensively. We just weren’t connected together. And then offensively, the spacing was a little messed up.
“But we’re going to be better. ... It’s our first game all together, so we’re going to keep building.”