Sixers overcome Wizards' Hack-a-Ben strategy to end homestand

Sixers overcome Wizards' Hack-a-Ben strategy to end homestand


“Hack-a-Ben” has officially started.

The Wizards tried to claw their way back into Wednesday's game against the Sixers by stalling the offense and sending Ben Simmons, who has struggled with free throws, to the line.

For 24 attempts in the fourth quarter. 

“It’s not going to happen for that much longer,” Simmons said after the Sixers’ 118-113 win (see observations). “I’m going to knock them down.”

Simmons entered the game shooting 56.6 percent from the line, a glaring contrast to his near-triple-double average. He had gone 3 for 5 through three quarters before the Wizards began to foul him as they trailed by 12 with 6:23 remaining.

The strategy continued for the next four minutes. The Sixers did not shoot a single field goal during that span. Their only other look came from a pair of free throw attempts by Joel Embiid. Meanwhile, the Wizards cut the Sixers’ lead to five points by the time Simmons went to the line for the final time. 

“I’m going to look at our defense,” Brett Brown said. “This is where the story should be told. There is a subtitle with this underneath Ben Simmons. This is all true. But they had 48 points in the [fourth] period.”

The exposure of a player’s weakness forces the coach to weigh whether he should leave him in and possibly miss shots or take him out to erase the opponent’s game plan. Brown had confidence in Simmons, who put up a mammoth double-double of 31 points and 18 rebounds in 41 minutes (see highlights). Simmons settled into a rhythm to drain six of his final eight free throw attempts, including five straight. In all, the rookie shot 15 for 29 from the stripe (51.7 percent) and the team made 41 of 64 (64.1 percent).

“We’ve done it ourselves,” Brown said of intentionally fouling. “Then you’re in a decision, do you take him out of the game or do you roll with him? And 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.”

It’s one thing to foul a player to stop him from scoring. It’s another to foul to stop an opponent from running its offense. Either way, it’s allowed by the NBA and a tactic implemented by teams around the league. 

The Wizards fouled Simmons for the last time with 2:23 left. The NBA implemented a rule in 2016 to curb the intentional fouling in the final two minutes. This game went two hours and 35 minutes, 29 minutes longer than the Sixers’ previous game against the Cavs. 

“It’s frustrating but you can’t do anything about it,” Embiid said. “That’s on Ben to step up and make free throws. I thought he did a great job of doing it and closing the game out.”

The Sixers are ready if opponents continue the “Hack-a-Ben” plan. They know they have to clamp down on defense if they can't get into their offense, and Simmons knows what he has to do avoid being targeted. 

"I step up," Simmons said. "I have no fear of taking free throws."

NBA admits mistake that leaves Sixers scratching their heads

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NBA admits mistake that leaves Sixers scratching their heads

CAMDEN, N.J. — The Sixers were right.

The Sixers argued they should have set up at halfcourt, not fullcourt, for a decisive final possession of double overtime in Friday’s game against the Thunder. After a closer look following their triple-overtime loss, the NBA ruled the Sixers were proved correct. 

“After review, it was determined that the 76ers called timeout with 00:01.2 remaining on the game clock, which was prior to Saric's (PHI) dribble. Therefore, they should have been given the opportunity to advance the ball into their own frontcourt for the inbound,” the NBA Officiating’s Last Two Minute Report noted.

The confusion occurred at the end of the second overtime. Dario Saric got a defensive rebound and the Sixers called a timeout before he dribbled the ball. Because of this, the Sixers should have been allowed to set up a final play in the halfcourt, which is exactly what they had practiced and called.

But the referees made a last-second change as the Sixers were setting up. The Sixers were told they had to inbound from fullcourt, which would have been the case if Saric had dribbled before the timeout. The Last Two Minute Report indicated he, in fact, did not. 

“Respect that they are that transparent, but complete disappointment that it can happen,” Brett Brown said Sunday. “You really scratch your head. It’s significant.”

Every play, every basket can make a difference for a team fighting to make the playoffs. The Sixers were confident they could have won the game with the halfcourt play. Instead, they dropped back down to .500 and currently 10 in the Eastern Conference.

“Those things you need to avoid to give yourself every chance to win,” Brown said. “We can point to many other things that were self-inflicted wounds that we’ve got to do better. But when it’s that exposed and that prominent of an environment with 1.2 seconds left, it’s disappointing. But like I say, they’re transparent. I respect the fact they admitted it and we move on.”

Joel Embiid out Monday against Bulls; 2 other Sixers sidelined

Joel Embiid out Monday against Bulls; 2 other Sixers sidelined

CAMDEN, N.J. — Joel Embiid does not play both games of a back-to-back, but whether he plays in either of the Sixers' next two matchups will have to be determined.

Embiid is not traveling with the Sixers to Chicago for Monday’s game against the suddenly-streaking Bulls, who have won five straight. The big man usually plays at home in these scenarios, and considering he played 49 minutes in Friday’s triple-overtime loss, the decision was expected.

Embiid’s availability for Tuesday at home against the Kings, though, has not been finalized at this point. This is not surprising either being two days ahead of the game. Embiid, who has been dealing with back tightness, did not participate in practice Sunday. The Sixers will evaluate, monitor, and go through treatment with Embiid before making their call.

“Unsure at this stage,” Brett Brown said Sunday. “I do know he’s categorically out tomorrow and we’re going to learn more about him being available when we come back [for] Sacramento, I’d expect in the next 24 hours.”

The Sixers do know they will be without another two players for some time.

Trevor Booker will miss at least the next two games after suffering spraining his left ankle Friday. The newly acquired reserve will be reevaluated in approximately five-to-seven days.

Even though Booker was traded to the Sixers less than two weeks ago, he already made an impact on the second unit. Brown has seen enough over the last four games to know what the team will be missing.

“His toughness,” Brown said. “He’s got a motor. He plays with such a spirit. He’s a man. He’s a pro. He’s been in the league for a while. He gets it. It’s everything that you miss. It’s really everything this team needs.”

Furkan Korkmaz likely will be sidelined even longer. The rookie suffered a Lisfranc injury on his left foot while playing for the Delaware 87ers on Dec. 15 and is out indefinitely. The Sixers recalled Korkmaz from the G League and he is going through evaluation and testing. There is no timetable set for Korkmaz at this point.  

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons described the injury as, “Lisfranc (midfoot) injuries result if bones in the midfoot are broken or ligaments that support the midfoot are torn. The severity of the injury can vary from simple to complex, involving many joints and bones in the midfoot.”

Korkmaz has been going back and forth between the Sixers and their G League affiliate in Delaware to get playing opportunities as part of his development in his first NBA season.