Instant Replay: Sixers 109, Wizards 102


Instant Replay: Sixers 109, Wizards 102


WASHINGTON -- Knocking off the two-time champion Miami Heat was old news for the Sixers on Friday. They were on to the next challenge.

The Sixers got down by double digits early before putting together a gritty second half to claim a 109-102 win over the Washington Wizards. The win moved the Sixers to 2-0 for the first time since 2006-07.

Thaddeus Young was masterful, scoring 29 points and grabbing eight rebounds. Evan Turner added 23 points in the win.

John Wall had the Sixers on their heels at the outset. Washington’s point guard shot 6 for 6 in the first quarter to score 15 points. He finished the game with 26 points.

The Wizards were without starting center Nene, who was sidelined with a sore left calf. Marcin Gortat replaced him in the lineup.

Turning point
Wall came down the court midway through the fourth quarter and penetrated the lane, only to put up an arrant floater.

The Sixers pushed the ball the other way and rookie Michael Carter-Williams swished a three to give the Sixers their first lead of the game at 92-89.

Follow the leader
Wall had been thinking about his matchup with the Carter-Williams since the Wizards’ season-opening loss to the Detroit Pistons.

The PG had 20 points and 11 assists in that defeat. In his locker room all the talk was about how spectacular MCW had been in his debut.

Wall assured the rookie would not come near his stellar numbers from Wednesday’s debut against the Heat.

Wall added six assists and five rebounds to his 26 points. Carter-Williams had 14 points, five assists and three rebounds. However, the Sixers' rookie point guard had the stronger finish and came away with the victory.

The Wizards had 14 fast-break points in the first quarter and shot 4 of 6 from three-point range. By contrast, the Sixers had just two points on the break in the period and were 0 for 9 from long range.

The Wizards finished with 34 fast-break points to the Sixers’ 20.

The Sixers’ three-point defense did improve as the game went along. The Wizards finished 9 for 25 from deep in the game.

Take a bow
Spencer Hawes scored 16 points, grabbed 14 rebounds and handed out five assists. Hawes hit two huge outside shots in the fourth quarter when the Sixers took control, including a three-pointer to put them up 101-92 with 3:49 to play.

What’s next?
The Sixers play their first back-to-back games of the season when they return home for Saturday night’s matchup against the Bulls.

Chicago comes to town with a 1-1 record. Derrick Rose is averaging 15 points in his first two games back after missing all of last season. He is shooting 28.9 percent from the field, although he did hit the Bulls’ game-winner in Thursday’s victory over the New York Knicks.

Lost in Joel Embiid's night, Jahlil Okafor returns with new role

Lost in Joel Embiid's night, Jahlil Okafor returns with new role

Joel Embiid’s regular-season debut headlined the Sixers' home opener Wednesday, a night two years in the making. He wasn’t the only player coming back from injury, though.

Jahlil Okafor took the court in a regular-season game for the first time since Feb. 28. Okafor underwent surgery in March to repair a right meniscus tear. He suffered a setback during training camp and was limited by soreness in that knee.

Okafor subbed in for Embiid with 7:47 remaining in the first quarter. He totaled eight points (4 for 10 from the field), three rebounds, one block, two fouls and three turnovers in 16 minutes, exceeding the Sixers’ initial minute projection of 12 to 14.

Okafor said his knee felt “good” after the game and did not experience discomfort. 

“I enjoyed myself,” Okafor said following the Sixers' 103-97 defeat to the Thunder (see Instant Replay). “Even though we lost, I enjoyed myself. We had a sold-out crowd. We had a hard-fought battle.”

Okafor’s role on Wednesday was different than it had been his rookie season. The former third overall pick is coming off the bench with a minutes restriction, broken down into segments. 

“It’s different for me,” Okafor said of his playing time. “I’m not used to playing in four-minute clumps. You’re more aware of when you’re going to go in. It kind of helps you a little bit. But it’s not something I want to get used to.”

Okafor is adjusted to a new in-game experience as a reserve. Last season, he started 48 of his 53 games and averaged 30.0 minutes. 

“My main thing was being able to come off the bench, which I’m not really used to, and still stay engaged, trying to stay loose,” Okafor said.

Opening night marked new starts for Okafor, as a player and a member of the Sixers (see 10 observations).

“I was taking a flashback to last year when we were 0-15, 0-16 and we so badly wanted to just restart the season,” he said. “Now we have the opportunity.”

In long-awaited NBA debut, Joel Embiid treats Sixers fans to a show

In long-awaited NBA debut, Joel Embiid treats Sixers fans to a show

The crowd erupted as Joel Embiid stepped to the free throw line. They chanted a phrase Embiid has been repeating for the past two years, a fitting welcome to his NBA debut.

“That was great,” Embiid said after the Sixers' 103-97 loss to the Thunder on Wednesday in the season opener (see Instant Replay). “That’s my motto, 'Trust the process.'”

After two years of rehabbing foot injuries, Embiid has his first regular-season game behind him. Embiid scored a team-high 20 points, shooting 6 for 16 from the field, 1 for 3 from long range and 7 for 8 from the line. He also recorded seven rebounds, two blocks, four turnovers and four fouls in over 22 minutes. 

“The beginning I was nervous, but once you make that first shot, it just goes away,” he said. “The fans were so into the game that it was fun. I love having fun.”

Sixers head coach Brett Brown enjoyed watching Embiid on the court as much as the big man liked being on it. Brown has seen the 7-foot-2 center grow and develop during his rehab. Finally, he was able to utilize his versatile skills in a real game setting.

“I can't say this loud enough,” Brown said. “For the city to be rewarded with a player that we all understand has unique gifts, special gifts, for him to go through all the things he has been through and play like he did on opening night, the city deserves it. Most importantly, he deserves it.”

Now that Embiid has been cleared to play, he would like to do so for longer periods of time. He began the preseason at 12 minutes and was increased to 20 in segmented spurts for opening night. Even though he exceeded that limit by over two minutes, Embiid is itching to be cleared to play more extensively. 

“It sucks,” Embiid said. “I feel like I could have played more but you know you’ve got to trust the process, got to trust those guys. If I have my minute restriction at 20 minutes, I guess I’m going to go with that. But obviously I want to play more and more and I think it can help the team better. But they have a plan for me and I’ve got to follow it.”

Embiid has maintained he wants to be a clutch player. Brown looked to him toward the end of the game as the Thunder pulled ahead late in the final quarter. He drained a fadeaway jumper to tie the game at 97 apiece with 50.7 to go. 

Later trailing by four with 10 seconds left, the Sixers went to Embiid. While he was whistled for an offensive foul, Brown was glad to have a go-to unlike in years past. 

“You have a target,” Brown said. “We tried to get the ball to him a lot. … By and large, to have somebody like Joel, where the mystery is solved like, 'What do you do?' You get him the ball as much as you can.”

The more the Sixers found Embiid, the more the Thunder had to try to defend him. Thunder head coach Billy Donovan knew what his team was going up against. He watched Embiid as a high schooler and coached against him during his tenure at Florida. 

“He’s gifted and skilled,” Donovan said. “It was probably our guys' first time seeing him … I knew the talent, the gifts. The one thing with him is, he’s got great footwork. He’s hard to guard because he’s herky-jerky. He moves. He’s got a lot of [Hakeem] Olajuwon to him.”

Opening night had been two years in the making. Even though the Sixers didn't win, the significance of the evening didn't disappoint. 

"I thought this moment was going to be special," Embiid said, "and it was just great."