Aside from Joel Embiid exiting the game with a knee injury and Rui Hachimura playing the best game of his career, Ben Simmons' struggles at the free-throw line were the key ingredient to the Wizards' Game 4 win at home.
Washington sent Simmons to the line intentionally three times down the stretch of Monday's game and then a fourth time when Russell Westbrook prevented a wide-open dunk with a hard foul. Simmons went 4-for-8 from the line in the final minutes and those missed opportunities allowed the Wizards to build a lead and close out Philadelphia for their first playoff win in three years.
As the series shifts back to Philly for a Game 5, should the Wizards take the "Hack-A-Simmons" strategy to an even greater level? It could be a way for them to extend this series to a Game 6 in D.C.
The case for
The Sixers are a great team, as evidenced by their first-place finish in the Eastern Conference this season. They're hard to score against and they're tough to stop on the other end of the floor, but in the playoffs, the team's weaknesses are almost more important than their strengths. So if you can find one, you have to exploit it as much as possible.
Simmons is a bad free throw shooter and he always has been. He converted just over 61% of his free-throw attempts this season and his career-high from the line is just 62%.
So far in this series, he's been significantly worse. The three-time All-Star is just 5-for-20 through the first four games of the playoffs, which is the worst mark for a player in that span in NBA history. That's worse than Wilt Chamberlain and Shaquille O'Neal ever shot at the line through the first four games of a playoff series.
Brooks has a history of sending Simmons to the line a bunch, too. In 2017, the Wizards sent the then-rookie phenom to the free-throw line 29 times while attempting to make up a 24-point deficit. Simmons only made 15 of those looks and the Wizards ended up getting as close as three points before eventually losing by five.
Embiid is reportedly doubtful for Game 5 with a knee injury, so if he can't go, Simmons will be the focal point of everything the Sixers do. They'll run the offense through him and if he's too busy going to the line 20+ times, it'll slow the game down and take away his greatest strength; playing in transition.
The case against
Slowing down the Sixers by putting Simmons on the line a ton should help the Wizards' defense, but it won't do anything for their offense.
The Wizards are at their best when they can get out and run, the only thing is it's pretty much by necessity. They don't have enough shooting and Bradley Beal is the only real three-level scoring threat on the team unless Westbrook's jumper is falling.
So when the Wizards slow down, they struggle to score. The lack of spacing makes it easier to send help on Westbrook's drives and takes away the risk of blitzing Beal when he comes off screens and handoffs. So if the Wizards commit to hacking Simmons, they'll have to find more ways to score in the half-court against one of the league's elite defenses.
The other downside is the obvious possibility that he gets hot and hits all his free throws. If that happens, Washington will simply have to beat the Sixers straight up.
Thread the needle
If the Wizards want to send Simmons AND make sure the game doesn't slow down to a snail's pace to the point where their offense suffers, they'll have to pick and choose the right moments to wrap him up.
Instead of fouling Simmons after a make, maybe the best idea is to foul him after misses so the Sixers can't get as many transition opportunities. The Wizards will have to play in the half-court whenever they send Simmons to the line, so they might as well make the Sixers play there exclusively too. Without Embiid, Philly doesn't have as many options when the game slows down.
And if fouling Simmons doesn't work, there's always Dwight Howard. The 35-year-old shot 57% from the line this year and is 9-for-20 in the series. It's rare teams have two "Hack-A-Shaq" candidates, but the Sixers do and it's something the Wizards might want to exploit if they want to make this series interesting.