WASHINGTON — 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. “You’ve still got to play right... Tonight we didn’t play right, on either end.”
Asked for more information about Embiid's knee, Rivers said, “I really don't know,” and added that some “precautionary” tests will be done Tuesday.
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.
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 center 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.
And Washington took over briefly in the third quarter, leading by as much as 92-78 in its final minute. A back-and-forth fourth quarter was tight down the stretch after Danny Green's layup with under 4 1/2 minutes to go made it 106-all.
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. Simmons finished with 13 points and 12 rebounds.
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.