The Philadelphia 76ers are one win away from advancing to the Eastern Conference semifinals after thoroughly dominating the Washington Wizards on Saturday night at Capital One Arena in a 132-103 victory to take a 3-0 lead in their best-of-seven series.
Joel Embiid was a force on the offensive end for the 76ers as the Wizards had no answer for the big man. Philadelphia’s All-Star center finished the win with a game-high 36 points while only taking 18 shots. For one reason or another, Washington refused to run double teams at Embiid and that led to the Wizards’ demise in the end. On the other end of the spectrum, Russell Westbrook recorded a triple-double and Bradley Beal poured in 25 points but it wasn’t enough to even keep the game competitive in the end.
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With the win, Philadelphia moves one step closer to a sweep and some extra rest that always comes in handy during the postseason. These two teams will meet again on Monday night with the opening tip scheduled for 7 p.m. ET. Here are the three biggest takeaways from Game 3.
1. A lose-lose situation
Washington doubled Joel Embiid aggressively in the first two games of this series. It didn’t work. Embiid averaged 26 points on over 60 percent shooting across Philadelphia’s first two wins, and those doubles only made life easier for the rest of the 76ers, so Scott Brooks tried a different approach in Game 3.
He left Embiid alone… only to watch him score 36 points in two-and-a-half quarters. If the goal was to slow everyone else down, well, that didn’t work either. The 76ers shot 17-of-33 on 3-pointers and all four other Philadelphia starters scored at least 14 points. The Wizards have no good answer here.
That’s to be expected when a No. 1 seed plays a No. 8 seed, but it’s not as though the 76ers were an offensive juggernaut in the regular season. They ranked 13th in offense, and while Embiid carved up everyone in his path, Philadelphia’s primary concern entering the postseason was its ability to generate points when teams could game-plan against Ben Simmons’ poor shooting. Well, so far, Philadelphia has answered those questions as well as they possibly could have. They’re averaging just under 126 points per game in this series.
2. The bench brigade
All five of Philadelphia’s starters were at least plus-27 in this game, a less-than-surprising statistic considering that group’s dominance all season. With their five starters on the floor during the regular season, the 76ers outscored opponents by 215 total points. No other five-man lineup topped 127, and only four in total reached plus-100. Put their best five against anyone else’s best five and the 76ers would feel pretty good about themselves.
But amazingly, in a 29-point win, no Sixers reserve was better than plus-4. Matisse Thybulle and Shake Milton were negatives. Philadelphia led by 14 when their first reserve entered the game in the first quarter. By the time all five starters were back, the lead had been cut down to four. The primary culprit? A five-man bench mob Doc Rivers has leaned on for most of the season in an effort to get Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid as much playing time together as possible.
It made sense in the regular season as a means of developing their chemistry together, but in the playoffs, stars are usually staggered to minimize the damage a single bad lineup can do. That strategy is especially necessary for two stars whose styles are as different as Embiid and Simmons. It is easier for both to play their preferred styles when the other is out, so Philadelphia should be maximizing those opportunities. Instead, Rivers is sticking with what got him here. It might make sense against Washington, but it will be problematic against Brooklyn or Milwaukee if Rivers keeps it up, so one of the big stories of the postseason for the 76ers is whether or not Rivers is willing to adapt his rotation choices moving forward.
3. Reality is starting to set in
The Wizards felt pretty good about themselves entering the postseason. They’d risen all the way from the 14th seed into the top eight, and with Russell Westbrook posting triple-doubles left and right, they might actually have felt as though they could make some noise once there.
Nope. The Philadelphia series has been a slaughter. The 76ers have won the past five halves by a combined 52 points. Washington has largely been noncompetitive since the first half of Game 1, and unless Philadelphia just stops hitting shots in Game 4, it looks like we’re headed for an ugly sweep. That’s not the outcome Washington wanted, but it’s probably the one the Wizards needed.
This is not a championship contender. The Wizards are not close. Organizationally, they detest tanking, but they needed to see just how far away this group is heading into a pivotal offseason. Bradley Beal is only one year away from free agency, and if the Wizards keep deluding themselves into thinking this roster can win with him, they might lose him for nothing next offseason. This series might not convince them to trade him ahead of time, but it’s showing everyone involved that the Wizards can’t win a championship as currently constructed. Whatever direction that takes the team in next, at least it’s one they’ll move in with their eyes fully open.