PHILADELPHIA — Rest up, Joel Embiid.
With an NBA title still in sight, the 76ers will need their injured franchise center — healthy and ready to roll — in the second round.
Seth Curry scored a playoff career-high 30 points and Philadelphia beat Washington 129-112 on Wednesday night to end the series in five games, overcoming Embiid’s absence because of a knee injury.
Tobias Harris added 28 points and teamed with Curry and Ben Simmons to carry the offensive load with Embiid out. Simmons had 19 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds to keep the top-seeded 76ers in the hunt for their first championship since 1983.
Embiid is day to day with a small lateral meniscus tear in his right knee and he was reduced to Philadelphia’s biggest cheerleader as the Sixers put the misery of last season’s first-round sweep behind them.
Embiid gave a sneak peek that the injury suffered in a Game 4 loss might not keep him out very long. The NBA MVP candidate had the crowd going wild when he hit the court for pregame warmups. He shot jumpers around the perimeter, fadeaways, even some free throws — all without any sort of noticeable knee brace under his white leggings —- and put on a show that proved his absence might not last beyond Game 5.
Coach Doc Rivers, in his first season, said he expected Embiid to return in the postseason.
“I don’t know when or how early,” he said. “I’m hopeful. I think that’s a better way of putting it.”
So Embiid and the Sixers wait for the winner of the Atlanta — New York series.
Sixers fans couldn’t wait, chanting “We want Brooklyn!” as the seconds ticked off in Game 5.
Led again by Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal, the Wizards were hopeful they could the could take advantage of Embiid’s absence and force a return home for Game 6.
With the first capacity crowd this season allowed at Wells Fargo Center — there were 15,523 in the house — the Sixers shook of a slow start and had the place rocking late in the first half when Simmons hit Harris for a 3 and their first lead of the night. Ben Simmons — staunchly defended by Rivers after a slew of missed free throws in Game 4 — hung tight from the line when the Wizards tried to Hack-A-Ben him again.
He also did what he does best, create plays and make his attacks to the rim look silky smooth. He even made 5 of 8 from the free-throw line.
Simmons, who missed 15 of 20 free throws over the first four games, drew Westbrook’s third foul in third. Westbrook complained to the referees all night and had four fouls through three quarters. Beal scored 32 points and Westbrook had 24.
The Sixers needed all the scoring help they could and they found plenty from super-sub Tyrese Maxey. Maxey scored nine points in the first half at a time when the Sixers needed some juice to keep pace with the Wizards. Maxey, a rookie out of Kentucky, hit the rim in traffic with pizzaz and fans erupted with each basket. He’s an instant fan favorite and played the bulk of the starter’s minutes in the first half.
Beal and Westbrook, playing his first game in Philly since a fan dumped popcorn on him in Game 2, could call the season a win after just getting the Wizards to the playoffs after a 17-32 record in early April.
Unselfish and on a mission, the Sixers expect so much more.
Sixers fans broke out “Trust the Process!” chants over the final minutes and the laborious rebuilding plan that brought the franchise Embiid and Simmons will surely need both of them to finish the job.
Wizards: With David Bertans out the rest of the series with a strained right calf, Raul Neto got the start. … No NBA team has won a playoff series with a losing record since the 1987 Seattle SuperSonics. The Wizards made it 31 straight postseason series losses for teams with losing records.
76ers: Meek Mill received a wild ovation when he rang the ceremonial bell. … Curry’s previous high in a postseason game was 22 against the Clippers on Aug. 21, 2020.