By Jerry Wein
Ben Simmons answered his critics and made Russell Westbrook a shadow of his star self, and the Sixers powered to a 2-0 lead over the Wiz in their first-round series.
The final score was 120-95, but for all intents and purposes the game was never in doubt once Simmons took control.
Game 3 is Saturday night at Washington.
Westbrook went down after colliding with Furkan Korkmaz early in the fourth quarter. He limped off the floor and then was restrained by security after a fan threw popcorn at him as he was headed under the tunnel.
“We’ll see,” Westbrook said about his availability for the next game. “Hurt it twice in a short amount of time. We’ll see what happens.”
As for the incident with the fan, Westbrook said: “I wouldn’t come up to me on the street and throw popcorn on my head, because you know what happens. … In these arenas, you gotta start protecting the players. We’ll see what the NBA does.”
Simmons and Joel Embiid each scored 22 points and Tobias Harris added 19 for the top-seeded Sixers. Simmons added nine rebounds and eight assists after becoming just the sixth player in NBA history to have at least 15 rebounds and 15 assists in a playoff game in a 125-118 win in Game 1
The three-time All-Star still heard plenty of criticism in Philly because he only scored six points and missed all six of his free throws.
Simmons was aggressive from the start, scoring the team’s first two baskets on his way to 12 points in the first quarter, including three dunks.
He said he wasn’t trying to prove a point but rather making plays available.
“I thought it was pretty hard to get 15 assists and 15 rebounds in the NBA in the playoffs,” he said. “That’s pretty impressive. And we won. … I don’t know. For me, I’m here to win, and I’m doing what I need to do to help my team win. A lot of these (critics) never played basketball at a high level.”
Bradley Beal had 33 points and Westbrook finished with 10 points and 11 assists for sub-.500 Washington.
Embiid scored on a driving layup, got knocked to the floor and sank a free throw to complete a three-point play in the final minute of the second quarter. Dwight Howard led the crowd’s chants of “M-V-P! M-V-P!” for Embiid, who raised both hands and soaked in the adoration.
The Sixers withstood 24 first-half points from Beal in the first half and led 71-57 at halftime. They maintained a double-digit lead throughout the second half.
Embiid was happy to see Simmons take advantage when Washington chose to double-team him.
“With the way they were guarding me, guys were open and he was the recipient of that,” Embiid said. “He was aggressive. I told him: ‘You have all the space in the world. Just attack and be aggressive.