The first 2017-18 regular-season game for the Washington Wizards featured a few alley-oop dunks, 16 blocked shots and plenty of offense.
Fortunately for Wizards fans, the team held on Wednesday to win its season opener against the Philadelphia 76ers, 120-115, in front of a sellout crowd at Capital One Arena in northwest D.C.
“Philly is a very talented team. It’s not going to be that easy like two or three years ago,” said Wizards center Marcin Gortat, who scored 16 points and grabbed 17 rebounds. “They have a great team. A lot of young players. I’m glad we came out with a win.”
The Sixers, which won only 28 games last year, didn’t falter when the Wizards went up 90-78 late in the third quarter. Led by Robert Covington’s game-high 29 points, Philadelphia went on a 15-4 run to take a 93-92 lead early in the fourth quarter.
Head coach Scott Brooks said one of the factors in the team’s win was Kelly Oubre Jr., who started in the second half and played the entire fourth quarter. Oubre had one of the biggest highlights of the game, a thunderous put-back dunk off a missed jumper in the third quarter.
“It’s a blessing because it always did not used to be like that,” said Oubre, who scored 14 points and pulled down eight rebounds. “I have definitely worked for that and I am going to continue to work to be the best player that I can be to pretty much not have any boundaries on me.”
Another key component was the Wizards bench, which outscored the Sixers reserves 41-25.
Jodie Meeks, who signed with the Wizards this summer, also scored 14 points and made all seven free throws.
Meeks acknowledged the second unit allowed the Sixers to come back.
“We let them back in the game — twice,” he said. “We know we can score, but we got to do it defensively. It’s just game one, so we have plenty of time to get better.”
The 2017 number 1 overall pick and Prince George’s County native Markelle Fultz came off the bench for the Sixers in his pro debut, scoring 10 points.
In the first quarter, Fultz drove to the basket and drew a foul on Wizards All-Star point guard John Wall. However, Wall returned the favor later in the game with a tight crossover, with a few fans yelling, “Welcome to the NBA.”
Wall finished with 28 points, his career-high for a season opener.
Pockets of Sixers fans in attendance tried to drown out the home crowd, but it got louder down the stretch as the game tightened, and the Wizards outscored the Sixers 20-15 to finish the game.
“This is probably the best opening night that I’ve been a part of,” Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal said. “Sometimes they may not realize … but we feed off [the fans’] energy and them being louder than the Philly fans. That’s just going to motivate us even more to win at home [and] protect our house.”
The Wizards will seek more of that fan support Friday when they host the Detroit Pistons (1-0).