In Review | Amidst Big Night, Simmons Presented With Late-Game Test
PHILADELPHIA, PA - For the finale of a season-long six-game homestand, the 76ers got the job done.
That much couldn’t be disputed Wednesday, with the scoreboard showing Sixers 118, Washington Wizards 113 after 48 minutes.
As for how the match-up ultimately got to that point, it was wacky.
Despite leading by as many as 24 points in the third quarter, the Sixers found themselves in a tensely-contested scrap, all because of Washington’s unwavering commitment to the late-game strategy of fouling Ben Simmons.
And man, did the Wizards foul him, again, and again, and again, and even more times after that. And these were planned, Hack-a-Simmons fouls. Nevertheless, he persevered, delivering a big night.
The dynamic rookie wound up toeing the free throw line a ridiculous 24 times in Wednesday’s closing frame, with the Wiz counting on the tactic to slow things down, and give them one last crack at a comeback bid.
In that sense, the approach was worked, but thanks to Simmons maintaining his poise, all while converting enough of his free throws (12 of them in the fourth quarter), the Sixers managed to hang on.
On both ends of the floor Wednesday, Simmons was prolific. His 31 points (8-16 fg) and 18 rebounds were new career-highs, as he became the Sixers’ first first-year player to reach those totals in a single game.
As for all of the trips Simmons made to the charity stripe in crunch time, Brett Brown considered them valuable learning opportunities. Hence the reason why the head coach opted to roll with the 21-year old in a strange situation.
“You’re sitting there on the sideline, and you’re pressed with a decision,” said Brown. “I was comfortable that this was what I’m doing.”
Simmons’ mindset in the face of pressure was simple.
“Make the free throws,” he said. “That’s it. I’m not trying to miss them.”
“That’s on Ben to step up and make free throws,” said Joel Embiid, who pumped out 25 points (6-15 fg, 13-18 ft) and 14 rebounds for his 11th double-double. “I thought he did a great job of doing it, and closing the game out.”
Based on the high volume of attempts awarded to Simmons, the Sixers set a franchise record for free throws in a quarter, with 37 in the fourth. They went 41-64 overall, the latter figure one off the single-game team record established by Wilt Chamberlain’s 1967 championship squad.
“I never want to come out of a situation like that,” said Simmons.
Why was Wednesday’s finish filled with so many fouls? In an inverted way, it was a testament to Simmons’ impact.
Throughout the tilt, he was essentially an unstoppable force, getting to wherever he wanted, and doing whatever he wanted when he got there. Washington put Otto Porter on Simmons to start the game, then turned the assignment over to Philadelphian Markieff Morris. Kelly Oubre Jr. had his fair share of chances to guard Simmons, too.
None of those players, or anyone else on the Wizards’ roster for that matter, was able to consistently contain the LSU product. With 7 points and 6 rebounds by the end of the first period, he was well on his way to his 12th double-double. He clinched it by halftime.
“We had a good flow at the start of the game, and then we took our foot off the gas,” said Simmons, who fueled the Sixers to a 58-40 edge at the break. “It went downhill a little bit, but we maintained it. Obviously, it was a great team effort.”
When Simmons subbed in with seven and a half minutes left in regulation, and promptly slithered through the Washington defense for a two-handed dunk, perhaps Wizards head coach Scotty Brooks had seen enough. If Washington couldn’t tame Simmons on its own, perhaps the NBA rule book could offer assistance.
And it did.
By purposefully hacking away at Simmons, the Wizards lengthened the game, and subsequently generated extra opportunities to claw back. All the while, Simmons was thrust into the spotlight.
“He’s going to be in the NBA for 15 years, he’s going to have to navigate through this,” Brown said. “I thought, at the end, he did a great job dealing with that type of pressure, and I think that he will grow from this experience.”
The rules, though, would only bend so far for Washington. Last season, a change was implemented so that in the final two minutes of every quarter, deliberate off-the-ball fouls net the opponent one free throw, plus possession.
It was right around the two-minute mark of the fourth quarter that the Sixers blitzed Washington with back-to-back lay-ups, the first from JJ Redick (8 pts, 4 ast), the second an and-1 from Dario Saric (24 pts, 8 reb). The baskets nudged the Sixers’ lead to 113-106 with one-minute, 40 seconds remaining.
The Wizards, with hopes high, didn’t back down. Oubre sunk a 1-footer to make it 113-110, but Saric answered with another clutch old-fashioned 3-point play with 22 ticks on the clock.
Washington again whittled the gap to three on a floater from Tomas Satoransky, 116-113. Jerryd Bayless, who was a steady off the bench Wednesday with 14 points (4-7 fg, 6-8 ft), deposited the first of two foul shots, before missing his second. Saric, though, stepped in for a critical offensive rebound with 5 seconds to go.
The Wizards had to foul one last time, its 42nd team foul, setting up Bayless to ice the triumph.
“We just had to lock in,” said Simmons.
While Wednesday’s fourth-quarter slog made it feel like a distant memory, the Sixers were unquestionably dominant for most of the night. Facing a Washington squad that earned a down-to-the-wire win the previous day at Minnesota, and is currently without four-time All-Star guard John Wall (left knee), the Sixers took the floor prepared to impose their will, and they did just that.
Not only did the Sixers have a stout defensive effort for the better part of three and a half quarters, they dictated play around the basket the entire game. The battle of the boards tilted heavily towards the Sixers, 64-35, and they outscored the Wizards 54-34 in the paint and 25-10 on second-chances, respectively.
“I made it a point of emphasis to rebound a lot more, stay in the post, and help the team out,” Simmons said. “I know it’s not easy for Jo to just do it. Having a big point guard, it’s easy for me to do that.”
In addition to Simmons, Embiid, and Saric, Robert Covington was a key part of the Sixers’ rebounding contingent. He brought down 12 caroms, while supplying 9 points, as the club concluded its two-week residency at The Center with a 4-2 record.
“We’re getting there,” said Embiid. “We still have a lot of growing to do.”
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver was in the house Wednesday, taking in the game, while interacting with fans.
— Jake Reynolds (@jakereynolds24) November 30, 2017
We’ll throw another one in here also, because the sequence was just too good.
Happy mom pic.twitter.com/AyI0H9ZQNb
— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) November 30, 2017
For their next game, the Sixers head to a place that, generally speaking, has been unfamiliar as of late, and that would be the road. Thursday, in the finale of a back-to-back set, they’ll make their first appearance of the regular season at TD Garden, where the Eastern Conference-leading Boston Celtics await. The Sixers, however, won’t be away long. They return to The Center Saturday to begin a 3-game homestand against the Detroit Pistons.