After one loss back when the Washington Wizards were struggling through a coronavirus-disrupted, injury-depleted, and defense-optional stretch of the season that put them 15 games below .500,gathered his teammates to speak his mind. According to coach Scott Brooks, a “very passionate, straightforward talk” that essentially amounted to: We will not miss the postseason. It might have seemed far-fetched at the time. It turns out Westbrook was true to his word.
Westbrook nearly produced a triple-double Thursday night, Bradley Beal scored 25 points, and the Wizards reached theNo. 8 seed by overwhelming the Indiana Pacers 142-115 in the play-in round Thursday night. Washington led by as many as 38 and now faces and the No. 1 , marking quite a turnaround for Brooks’ crew, 17-32 before going on a 17-6 run over the regular season’s last six weeks.
“Russell has an edge, guys, and I think the world should appreciate that,” said Brooks, who also coached Westbrook at the start of theThunder. “He gives you everything. He’s a hooper. And sometimes, he’s an angry hooper. But he’s a hooper that plays the right way and hard.” Asked about his locker room chat when things looked bleak, Westbrook said: “We were struggling, and everybody was doubting us on the outside, and we had to knuckle up.” That they did, thanks in no small part to the 2016-17 league MVP.
A week afterfor most regular-season triple-doubles, Westbrook finished Thursday with 18 points, 15 rebounds, and eight assists. It was Beal — second in the NBA in scoring two years in a row — whose 3-pointer at 98-68 with about four minutes left in the third quarter. “We weren’t able to sustain some of their punches,” Indiana’s Doug McDermott said. Beal and Westbrook heard “M-V-P!” chants during trips to the foul line, as did reserve center Robin Lopez in an appreciative if more tongue-in-cheek way, from a giddy crowd, capped at 5,333 — a quarter of the arena’s capacity — because of .
Beal skipped the last period entirely. Westbrook sat out the previous 8 minutes and tossed his shoes to a fan. “They got on a roll. They got two elite players on that team, and they’re at home,” said Malcolm Brogdon, who led Indiana with 25 points. “Once guys like that get their confidence going in the second quarter and start rolling; there’s not much you can do.” Domantas Sabonis had 19 points, 11 rebounds, and ten assists before fouling out early in the fourth quarter for the Pacers, whoseappearances ended in coach Nate Bjorkgren’s first year in charge.
Asked if he thought he’d be back, Bjorkgren said: “My focus is on the players right now, and I’m not thinking about myself. I’m not. I want todo what’s best for these guys.” The Wizards lost the 7-vs.-8 game at the Boston Celtics 118-100 Tuesday, and Westbrook was hardly himself. He shot 6 for 18. He had only five assists, less than half his league-leading average of 11.7. “Just wasn’t feeling my best when my me the most,” he said. “Today, I did a better job.”
It was, when the score was 34-all. From there, Westbrook took over for a bit, bullying his way through the lane and mean-mugging Pacers players. A 16-0 run made it 50-34, prompting the Pacers to take a timeout. They never recovered. At one point, Westbrook raised a hand and wiggled his fingers while looking into the stands, pleading for more noise. Later, Beal — dealing with a hamstring — wind-milled his arms while smiling wildly. Now the Pacers head to the offseason, while the Wizards are back in the postseason after missing out the past two years before acquiring Westbrook in a trade that Wall to Houston. Washington dealt with a that affected over half its roster and led to a two-week hiatus. The team lost two starters for the season to injuries. However, Westbrook, Beal, and Co. get to keep playing. “We have a lot of noise to make,” Beal said.
Pacers: We were missing Caris LeVert (COVID-19 protocols), Myles Turner (right foot), T.J. Warren (left foot), and Jeremy Lamb (left knee). Wizards: F Rui Hachimura scored 18 points, ten more than against Boston. Daniel Gafford’s five first-half blocks were the most by a Wizards player in a decade. He also had 15 points and 13 rebounds.
Wizards: At Philadelphia for Sunday’sseries against the 76ers.