Wizards

Wizards use ‘Hack-A-Ben’ strategy late in Game 4 win vs. 76ers

Wizards

With the Wizards’ season on the brink, they had little to lose in Game 4 in the way of strategy. So they willingly put Philadelphia 76ers star Ben Simmons on the free throw line as much as they could.

As time wound down in a close game, the Wizards adopted the famed “Hack-A-Shaq” style of defense with Simmons to put him on the free throw line as much as possible. On three straight possessions, even with a chance to fall behind, the Wizards opted to foul Simmons immediately after the in-bounds pass to force him to shoot free throws. 

On those three possessions, he went 3-of-6 from the line. Later, a Russell Westbrook foul on an attempted dunk negated a would-be basket and put Simmons at the stripe once more. 

A career 59.7% free throw shooter, Simmons shot 61.3% from the line this season. But in Game 4, he shot 45.5% (5-of-11) as the Wizards’ strategy paid off late in a 122-114 win to keep their season alive. 

“We were trying to do it the other night and we struggled doing it,” Washington coach Scott Brooks said. “On me. We actually struggled twice tonight, in the first half as well. I thought we did a good job of boxing out, that’s always an issue with us at the free-throw line. If you’re gonna miss them, we can’t let them get the rebound. Then Russell’s foul on him, that’s how you foul. No freakin’ layups. That’s what it’s about.”

 

As the Wizards continued to foul Simmons, he was forced to take the long walk down the floor as the physical act of making a free throw soon became a mental one as well. 

Bradley Beal took advantage, at one point standing next to Simmons to try and get in his head.

“I didn’t say anything, I didn’t say one word to him,” Beal said. “I just stood there trying to play a little mind game with him. He’s a tough competitor, we’ve been going at it all series. It was one of those moments where I needed him to give me one or two of these free throws at the end of the game, and fortunately, he gave us a couple.”

Simmons, who is now 4-of-18 from the line this series after an 0-for-10 start, has surely opened himself up to this strategy happening more as the playoffs progress, assuming the Wizards aren’t able to complete the most improbable and heroic of comebacks after losing the first three games of the series. 

Of course, it wasn’t the first time an NBA team, or the Wizards, tried to put Simmons on the line often. 

In 2017, Simmons was a rookie when the Wizards began to put him on the line as much as possible. The Wizards were down by 24 that night, brought the game to a three-point deficit and eventually lost 118-113. 

Simmons shot 29 free throws that night, an NBA record 24 of them came in the fourth quarter. He made just 15 free throws that night. 

But as the Wizards continue to operate whatever defensive strategy works, don’t expect Simmons to leave the court anytime soon.

“Ben, we’re going to keep him on the floor,” 76ers coach Doc Rivers told reporters after the game. “Unless you guys want us to bench him the whole game, if anybody wants us to do that, just let me know. Then I’ll know you don’t know basketball.”