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Basketball

Russell Westbrook delivers on midseason vow, leads Washington Wizards to playoffs

Throughout an impassioned speech that came about in the course of the season after a loss, Russell Westbrook advised the Washington Wizards that they had been going to make the playoffs regardless of all of the accidents, a COVID-19 outbreak and shedding streaks the staff needed to endure this season.

On Thursday night time, Westbrook delivered on his vow, scoring 18 factors, dishing 15 assists and grabbing eight rebounds to spark Washington’s emphatic 142-115 play-in event rout over the visiting Indiana Pacers to clinch the eighth seed.

Washington subsequent faces the top-seeded Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday within the first spherical after finishing a relentless run to a playoff berth that hasn’t been completed in almost 25 years. As soon as a dismal 17-32 on April 5, the Wizards turned the primary staff to make the playoffs after being 15 video games beneath .500 throughout the season because the Phoenix Suns in 1996-97.

It is one thing that has been completed solely six instances since 1984.

“We had been struggling and all people was down on the skin and we had to determine a option to knuckle up and make the playoffs,” Westbrook mentioned about his playoff promise to the staff. “Easy as that. I did not care what occurred within the earlier video games. … We needed to determine ourselves out, have a look at ourselves within the mirror, beginning with myself.

“I made it clear to the blokes that we’ll make it.”

Washington led by 14 on the half however blew the sport large open within the third quarter, making 15-of-20 photographs and exploding for 48 factors within the interval.

The Wizards went on a 30-14 run at one level within the third, as Westbrook and Bradley Beal (25 factors) overwhelmed Indiana. Beal scored 16 factors within the quarter, together with taking a bounce go from Westbrook on a backdoor minimize for a thunderous baseline dunk. As Beal held on the rim, Westbrook turned again up the courtroom and let loose a primal scream whereas elevating each of his arms within the air.

The 5,333 followers readily available celebrated because the franchise was heading to its first playoff look since 2017-18.

“Most likely probably the most lovely factor I’ve seen us do all 12 months,” Beal mentioned of Thursday’s consequence. “I have never been within the playoffs in three years. I am undoubtedly glad to be again.”

Thursday’s win comes after Washington performed one in every of its worst video games in months on Tuesday and misplaced 118-100 to the Boston Celtics to drop into the sport towards Indiana for the ultimate seed of the playoffs.

Not one of the Wizards appeared nice in that loss at Boston, together with Westbrook, who completed with 20 factors, 14 rebounds and 5 assists whereas capturing 6-for-18 and lacking all 4 of his 3-point makes an attempt. The purpose guard did not look proper, nor did he have almost the identical power and aggression he had been taking part in with for months throughout his triple-double assault in breaking Oscar Robertson’s all-time triple-doubles profession document this season.

Westbrook, who shall be taking part in in a postseason for the eleventh time in 12 years, admitted he wasn’t feeling 100% and was coping with some “nicks and bruises.”

“I used to be so pissed in my efficiency,” Westbrook mentioned. “Simply wasn’t feeling the perfect when my staff wanted me probably the most. Every part occurs for a purpose. I knuckled down and took care of my physique and made positive my thoughts was proper coming into tonight and ensuring my power and energy was there and my staff might observe me.”

The playoffs had been virtually a dream when the Wizards had been in the course of a nightmarish begin to the season. They endured a COVID-19 outbreak that introduced the group to an entire halt for 9 days and landed seven gamers in well being and security protocols. And so they’ve sustained season-ending accidents to beginning middle Thomas Bryant and first-round choose Deni Avdija.

“We have now completed issues, there isn’t any template, there isn’t any e book that we might have learn [on how to handle],” Wizards coach Scott Brooks mentioned. “We did not know 90% of the issues that we had been doing as a result of we had been studying it on the fly. Not having observe, not having shootaround, being away from the staff for 10 days, having seven guys mainly miss three weeks in January and all of the accidents on prime of that.”

However that was all a distant reminiscence because the blowout was obvious within the third quarter. Earlier than Brooks turns his consideration to Joel Embiid and the Sixers, he remembers how Westbrook’s management and playoff promise helped flip this season round.

“I do not even bear in mind what sport [it was], he gave a really passionate, very direct speak to the group,” Brooks mentioned. “He was like, I’m not going via this season and never making the playoffs. Not that he predicted it, however he mentioned I’m not going to let this occur and never make the playoffs. We’re going to step up and battle for each other.

“[It was] virtually like, you guys higher be prepared for what’s about to happen, and it rotated.”

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