The Wizards clinched a playoff spot Thursday night by virtue of their win over the Pacers. It was a big victory for the team that marked a remarkable comeback for them.
It was one that was, unsurprisingly, sparked by Russell Westbrook.
After Washington’s win over Indiana, Westbrook explained that during the Wizards’ struggles, he gave a speech and said that they would make the playoffs. Despite all their early-season issues, he turned out to be right.
“We were struggling and everybody was down on the outside and we had to figure out a way to knuckle up and make the playoffs,” Westbrook said, per ESPN’s Ohm Youngmisuk. “Simple as that. I didn’t care what happened in the previous games. … We had to figure ourselves out, look at ourselves in the mirror, starting with myself.
“I made it clear to the guys that we’ll make it.”
The Wizards went 17-6 down the stretch and played themselves into the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference. They needed to win just one play-in game and did so against the Pacers.
They were keyed by Westbrook, who carried the team, averaging 23 points, 13.5 rebounds and 14 assists during the final 23 games of the season. But above all, coach Scott Brooks was impressed by Westbrook’s leadership during a difficult season.
“I don’t even remember what game [it was], he gave a very passionate, very direct talk to the group,” Brooks said. “He was like, I am not going through this season and not making the playoffs. Not that he predicted it, but he said I am not going to let this happen and not make the playoffs. We are going to step up and fight for one another.
“[It was] almost like, you guys better be ready for what is about to take place, and it turned around.”
Now, the Wizards will look to keep the magic going. It won’t be easy as they face the best team in the East, the 76ers, in the opening round of the playoffs. But win or lose, Westbrook will have them ready to play hard.