The Sixers won 118-113, but holy hell it didn’t feel like it.
At some point in the 3rd quarter, I tweeted that this was the first wholly non-stressful Sixers game in the last two years. I spoke way too soon. The Sixers lost TJ McConnell in the 3rd, came out flat in the 4th, and then Scott Brooks employed the first instance we’ve seen of Hack-a-Simmons, a strategy that worked very well since Ben Simmons is an incredibly bad free throw shooter. The Sixers ended the game with a total of 64 free throw attempts (37 in the 4th quarter), 29 by Simmons alone (he made 15, which is flat out not good enough). At one point, as Simmons approached the line and the fans boo’d, Alaa Abdelnaby said “Don’t boo, just make the free throws.” He’s right, but the fans in attendance were sitting through some truly unwatchable basketball. Before all of that, it was pretty nice.
Before fouling out in the 4th, Joel Embiid put up a 25/14 line with 4 assists and 4 blocks. Simmons, before the foul fest, was keeping pace with his points and rebounds, closing it out with a career-high 31 points (thanks to all those free throws), a career-high 18 rebounds, to go with 4 assists, 2 blocks, and 2 steals. He also tossed perhaps the most beautiful cross-court floater pass I have ever seen:
In the end, Dario Saric had a game he needed to have. Not only did he put up a sneaky 24 points (8/12 from the floor, 7/7 from the line), but he pulled down 8 rebounds, including a crucial, game-sealing offensive board at the end of the game. He also spiked the ball in excitement after making an and-1 which got him called for an incredibly stupid technical (either for the spike itself, or because it was their 2nd delay of game call). Sometimes, this team refuses to stop shooting itself in the foot.
T.J. McConnell was lost for most of the 2nd half with a shoulder “contusion,” x-rays were negative but we’ll have to keep an eye on that in the future. But back to those Simmons free throws.
In college, Simmons shot 67% from the free throw line. Coming into tonight, he was shooting 56.6%. Tonight, he shot 51.7%. None of those numbers are good enough, and Scott Brooks showed that employing a Hack-a-Simmons, even if it wasn’t the sole reason the Wizards got back into the game, was an incredibly effective strategy. Until Simmons shows that he can make those shots at a better clip, teams will take 55% from the line over 50% from the field every single time. He’s young and this is part of the Process, but if he doesn’t want to be treated the way he was tonight - and he certainly didn’t seem to be enjoying himself - only he can change that.
The Sixers head to Boston tomorrow, where they’ll be Embiid-less.