On Thursday night, Westbrook lived up to his wish, scoring 18 points, distributing 15 assists and registering eight rebounds to spark Washington’s emphatic 142-115 play-in loss to the visiting Indiana Pacers to clinch the eighth seed. .
Washington will then face the seeded Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday in the first round after completing a relentless run to a playoff spot that hasn’t been made in nearly 25 years. After a dismal 17-32 on April 5, the Wizards became the first team to make the playoffs after going 15 games under 0.500 this season since the Phoenix Suns in 1996-97.
This is something that has only been accomplished six times since 1984.
“We were wrestling and everyone was down on the outside and we had to find a way to fight and make the playoffs,” Westbrook said of his playoff pledge to the team. ” It’s that simple. I didn’t care what happened in previous matches. … We had to understand each other, look at each other in the mirror, starting with myself.
“I made it clear to the guys that we would get there. “
Washington led by 14 at the half but opened the game in the third quarter, making 15 of 20 shots and exploding for 48 points in the period.
The Wizards went on a 30-14 run at one point in the third, as Westbrook and Bradley Beal (25 points) passed Indiana. Beal scored 16 points during the quarter, including taking a rebound pass from Westbrook on a backdoor for a thunderous base dunk. As Beal clung to the rim, Westbrook walked up the field and let out a primitive scream as he raised both of his arms in the air.
The 5,333 fans in attendance celebrated as the franchise headed for its first playoff appearance since 2017-18.
“Probably the nicest thing I’ve seen us do all year,” Beal said of Thursday’s result. “I haven’t made the playoffs for three years. I’m really happy to be back. “
Thursday’s victory comes after Washington played one of its worst games in months on Tuesday and lost 118-100 to the Boston Celtics to enter the game against Indiana for the playoff final seed.
None of the Wizards looked good in that loss to Boston, including Westbrook, who finished with 20 points, 14 rebounds and five assists shooting 6 for 18 and missing all four of his 3-point attempts. The point guard didn’t look good, nor did he have about the same energy and aggression he had been playing for months on his triple-double assault to break the career triple-double record of all-time Oscar Robertson this season.
Westbrook, who will play in the playoffs for the 11th time in 12 years, admitted he didn’t feel 100% and was facing “notches and blues”.
“I was so pissed off by my performance,” Westbrook said. “I just didn’t feel my best when my team needed me the most. Everything happens for a reason. I got down on my knees and took care of my body and made sure my mind was okay tonight and made sure my energy and effort was there. and my team could follow me. “
The playoffs were practically a dream when the Wizards were in the midst of a nightmarish start to the season. They suffered a COVID-19 outbreak that brought the organization to a complete halt for nine days and landed seven actors in health and safety protocols. And they suffered end-of-season injuries to starting center Thomas Bryant and first-round pick Deni Avdija.
“We did things, there is no model, there is no book that we could have read [on how to handle]”Said Wizards coach Scott Brooks.” We didn’t know 90% of the things we were doing because we were learning on the fly. Not training, not having a shoot, being out of the team for 10 days, having seven guys who are basically missing three weeks in January and all the injuries on top of that. “
But it was all a distant memory as the rash was apparent in the third trimester. Before Brooks turns his attention to Joel Embiid and the Sixers, he remembers how Westbrook’s leadership and playoff promise helped turn the tide this season.
“I don’t even remember which game [it was], he gave a very passionate and very direct conversation to the group, ”said Brooks. He was like, I’m not going through this season and not making the playoffs. Not that he predicted it, but he said I won’t let that happen and I won’t make the playoffs. We will step up and fight for each other.
« [It was] almost like, you better be ready for what’s going to happen, and it turned around. ”