Simmons, 76ers slay Wizards
PHILADELPHIA — While rookie Ben Simmons has gotten off to impressive start for the Philadelphia 76ers, he has one glaring weakness — free throw shooting.
The Washington Wizards attempted to exploit that shortcoming on Wednesday night.
The 76ers ultimately held on for a 118-113 victory, as Simmons collected career highs of 31 points and 18 rebounds.
Simmons, who entered the game shooting just 56.6 percent at the foul line, missed 12 of 24 free throws after being intentionally fouled on numerous occasions in the fourth quarter, however. The Wizards, who trailed by 24 in the third quarter, were as a result able to cut the deficit to three down the stretch. They would get no closer.
“When you’re down 24, anything’s in play,” Washington coach Scott Brooks said. “You’re just trying to do whatever it takes to give us a chance to cut the lead.”
Simmons finished the night 15 of 29 at the line, and said his approach in that situation was simple.
“I’m going to the line, shooting free throws, so I’ve just got to make them,” he said.
Sixers coach Brett Brown, a former San Antonio assistant, had seen Spurs coach Gregg Popovich employ the hack-a-whomever strategy against poor free throw shooters on numerous occasions. The Sixers had done it themselves when facing Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan last season, and won a game as a result.
“This one was done early, and it did stretch out the game,” Brown said. “Then you’re in a decision: Do you take him out of the game, or do you roll with him? Tonight, we decided to roll with Ben, and it’s going to be part of his evolution. He’s going to have a long career. He’s going to have to learn to navigate through this.”
Simmons appreciated his coach’s vote of confidence.
“I never want to come out of a situation like that,” he said. “He knows my mentality. I’m not scared to take the free throws.”
Nor does he believe this will be a long-term concern.
“It’s not going to happen for that much longer,” he said. “I’m going to knock them down.”
The Wizards, who were down 75-51 with 5:23 left in the third quarter, made it 100-97 on two free throws by Tomas Satoransky with 3:35 left.
Simmons then made one foul shot, and Joel Embiid did the same after rebounding Simmons’ miss. After a missed jumper by Washington’s Bradley Beal, Simmons converted twice at the line to make it 104-97.
Washington, which lost for the fifth time in seven games, also cut the gap to three on two occasions in the final minute, the last time at 116-113 on Satoransky’s basket with 11.4 seconds to play.
Philadelphia’s Jerryd Bayless then made a free throw, and after the Sixers reclaimed his miss, he made another.
Embiid had 25 points, 14 boards and four blocked shots for Philadelphia, which closed out a season-high six-game homestand with its fourth victory.
Dario Saric contributed 24 points and Bayless had 14 off the bench for the Sixers (12-8).
Philadelphia enjoyed a 64-35 rebounding advantage, outscored Washington 54-34 in the paint and had a 24-10 edge on second-chance points.
Washington (11-10) was without guard John Wall for the third straight game because of a sore left knee. Beal, the Wizards’ other guard, sat out the last 15 minutes of the first half with a facial contusion but returned in the second half and finished with 21 points.
Kelly Oubre Jr. led Washington with 22 points off the bench. Another sub, Jodie Meeks, had 21.
The Sixers snapped an early 11-11 tie with a 17-4 flurry featuring five points by Simmons. They remained in control the rest of the half.
Philadelphia also reeled off 12 straight points late in the second quarter, the last two when Embiid blocked Tim Frazier’s shot, sprinted the length of the court and took a pass from Simmons for a dunk.
By halftime, Philadelphia’s lead was 58-40 and Embiid had 13 points, Simmons had 11 points and 11 rebounds.
Oubre led the Wizards with 13 first-half points.
NOTES: Philadelphia G T.J. McConnell left the game in the third quarter with a bruised left shoulder and did not return. When asked whether he expects McConnell to play Thursday night in Boston, Sixers coach Brett Brown said, “My gut says no.” ... Sixers C Joel Embiid will not play against the Celtics, either, as he has not yet been cleared to appear in back-to-back games. ... Washington C Marcin Gortat entered the game leading the NBA in screen assists — i.e., picks that lead directly to baskets — with 5.6 per game, after leading the league in the same category a year ago (6.2). “He’s willing to get hit,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks said. “You see a lot of players, they want to slip every screen, because it hurts.” ... Philadelphia G/F Nik Stauskas was available after missing the previous five games with a sprained right ankle. He did not play, however.