– by Adesina O. Koiki
A Lot of Sports Talk editor-in-chief
WASHINGTON — In the latest stage of their much ballyhooed and protracted rebuilding project, the Philadelphia 76ers clearly showed in their season opener tonight how good they might become. Down the stretch of tonight’s game, however, the Washington Wizards, who fancy themselves as contenders to an Eastern Conference championship this season, showed them how good they are now in sealing a victory to start their own ambitious campaign.
John Wall scored 14 of his 28 points in the third quarter while his backcourt mate, Bradley Beal, chipped in with 25 points as Washington defeated the 76ers 120-115 in a thoroughly entertaining game to start the NBA season in the nation’s capital. Wall, starting a season in which the expectations from many pundits at the end of it is a spot on the All-NBA First Team, shook off a sluggish first half where he made only three of his 13 field goals and woke up just in time for the Wizards to continue their dominance at home – something they hope carries over from last season, where they went 30-11 at home.
“It was great,” said Wall in the locker room postgame. “The first couple of minutes you probably get tired easy, but then you just are excited to be out there and play against another team and it counts. As long as we came out with the win, that’s all that matters.”
The win was especially in doubt to begin the fourth quarter, when the Sixers hit four three-pointers in the first 2:31 of the period to turn an eight-point deficit into a 96-94 lead. Washington responded with a 14-6 surge, with Bradley Beal’s alley-oop lob and Wall’s slam of it giving Washington a 108-102 lead.
“You know, that was probably the best lob that I’ve ever thrown in my life to be honest with you,” said Beal, who scored 25 points. “I’m not really a lob-thrower, but that one was crucial for us. I know John loves the energy and whenever I can get him going to the hoop, I’m going to take full advantage of it.”
The energy in the building rivaled that of an Elite Eight NCAA men’s basketball tournament game, with hundreds of Sixers fans making their way South to see the revitalized Sixers, particularly the NBA debuts of Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz, the last two No. 1 overall selections in the NBA Draft. Simmons, who missed all of last season with a foot injury, had a double-double in his debut: 18 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, two steals and just one turnover in 34 minutes of action. Fultz came off the bench and scored 10 points on 5-of-9 shooting.
Another one of the Sixers wondrous talents, center Joel Embiid, had 18 points and 13 rebounds despite playing just playing a shade under 27 minutes.
With “Trust The Process” chants being belted out many times by the vociferous Sixer faithful inside Capital One Arena, Philadelphia responded from a slow start in the first quarter – the Sixers were down by nine after the first 12 minutes – to score 36 points in the second quarter and take a three-point lead into the half. Small forward Robert Covington was the catalyst during the second stanza, scoring eight points while hitting a couple of threes as Philadelphia hit five of its eight three-point attempts in the quarter.
Covington ended the game leading all scorers with 29 points, hitting seven three-pointers.