76ers

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

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

BOX SCORE

“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."

Philadelphia native Kyle Lowry on heckler: 'If they’ve got a problem, they can find me'

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USA Today Images/Bill Streicher

Philadelphia native Kyle Lowry on heckler: 'If they’ve got a problem, they can find me'

Kyle Lowry was in a constant dialogue with the referees during the Raptors’ 110-104 loss to the Sixers on Sunday night, complaining about everything from an air ball that he was convinced Matisse Thybulle had blocked to off-ball contact he felt wasn’t being policed tightly enough. He started another dialogue after the game with a heckling fan. 

After scoring 26 points in Toronto’s loss, the Philadelphia native, Villanova product and reigning NBA champion answered questions from reporters about the exchange.

“He’s talking too much,” Lowry said of the fan. “He talks too much. I don’t know him, but he ain’t worth my time.”

Any surprises about getting that sort of treatment in his hometown?

“I don’t care,” he said. “It’s Philadelphia — I respect it, I love it. Because when I come home, I’m going to be here. If they’ve got a problem, they can find me.”

Lowry’s Raptors, of course, bounced the Sixers in the second round of the playoffs last season in a seven-game series as close as one can possibly be. Their regular-season series this year is now tied at 1-1. The two teams play each other Jan. 22 in Toronto, and they next face off in Philadelphia on March 18.

The dynamic between Lowry and Sixers fans might not be at the top of the list, but it’s one reason why those games should be worth watching. 

“There’s a rivalry here,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse acknowledged before the game. 

At Wells Fargo Center, where the Sixers are now 12-0, the fans tend to make themselves part of any rivalry. 

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Tobias Harris, Matisse Thybulle come up large in Sixers' win over Raptors

Tobias Harris, Matisse Thybulle come up large in Sixers' win over Raptors

BOX SCORE

It may be early in the NBA schedule, but this wasn’t just another game for the Sixers.

In a game that had a playoff-like atmosphere, they held on to beat the Raptors, 110-104, at the Wells Fargo Center Sunday night.

Ben Simmons played composed, Tobias Harris and Matisse Thybulle came up large and the Sixers’ defense imposed their will on Toronto.

Josh Richardson missed his sixth straight game with right hamstring tightness.

With the win, the Sixers remain unbeaten at home at 12-0 and improve to 17-7 overall. They host the Nuggets Tuesday night.

Here are observations from the win.

Steady Ben, Jo struggles

Joel Embiid was not doubled on his first touch … so he naturally turned it over. To Embiid’s credit, he didn’t let a tough start get to him. He was under control, handling double teams and taking what the game gave him. When Marc Gasol picked up his second foul, it allowed Embiid to get some looks against Serge Ibaka, which opened things up. With the Sixers out to a big lead in the fourth, Toronto used full-court pressure and Embiid struggled with it.

While a lot of attention has been paid to Embiid’s struggles against Toronto, let’s not forget that Simmons had his issues in the last matchup — even with Kawhi Leonard gone. Simmons also got off to a shaky start, looking like he was playing a little rushed. He started to let the game come to him a bit and settled in.

Embiid’s numbers weren’t mind-blowing (10 points, eight rebounds, six assists), but up until that weird fourth-quarter stretch, he didn’t force anything and his teammates made the Raptors pay.

Despite the five turnovers, Simmons had a strong overall game, flirting with a triple-double with 16 points, 11 rebounds and  nine assists.

In general, the Sixers just seemed to handle the Raptors’ ball pressure significantly better — fourth quarter excluded — than they have in games past. A strong game from three-point range (14 of 32) also helped that cause.

Tobias makes Raptors pay

The Sixers have constantly talked about exploiting mismatches this season with their size. With the Raptors starting two smaller guards in Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet, there was bound to be a matchup they could exploit. 

Early on, it was Harris who was by far the Sixers’ most aggressive player in attacking Lowry. In a game where the Sixers did a lot of over-passing, Harris did not. The most impressive thing about Harris’ start was the way that he attacked the rim — even when Ibaka was in the game.

With head coach Nick Nurse’s game plan to take Embiid and Simmons out of the picture as much as possible, it was on the Sixers’ supporting cast to make them pay. Harris did just that with a game-high 26 points on 4 of 8 from three and 10 of 22 overall.

Bully ball defense

The most impressive thing from the Sixers was their defense, using their length to frustrate and challenge Toronto.

Brett Brown switched up the matchups, starting the game with Al Horford on Pascal Siakam and Simmons on Kyle Lowry. Still, it was Simmons’ defensive versatility that stood out. He did well in his matchups against Siakam, who is playing at an elite level (the Sixers held him to 16 points on 7 of 18). He was also the one that was able to draw Gasol’s second foul after he was switched onto the center in the post.

You’d be hard pressed to find many — if any — players that are better than Simmons when it comes to switching one through five.

The Sixers’ defense was also big in leading to offense and easy transition looks.

This play by Horford, where the Raptors essentially had a 3-on-1 fast break, was mighty impressive and led to a transition bucket.

In general, Horford was strong in this one. With how unequipped the Sixers were at the backup center position against Toronto last postseason, it was evident the impact Horford had Sunday.

The rook continues to pass every test

Thybulle was questionable heading into this one with a sprained right ankle, but there was nothing questionable about his play.

He frustrated Lowry at every opportunity, continuing to excel at his “rearview” contests and making life miserable for his opponents. He also drew an offensive foul on Ibaka while he was screening for Lowry. The 22-year-old is getting better at walking that fine line defensively.

And what Thybulle game would be complete without a steal highlight? This was one of his three on the night.

He also continues to make shots, like this one he hit at the buzzer at the end of the first quarter which turned into a four-point play.

He also nailed two big threes in the third quarter to extend the Sixers’ lead to 18. He made a rookie career-high 5 of 8 from three and set a new high mark with 20 points. This may have been the biggest test for Thybulle this season, and he passed with flying colors.

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