Ben Simmons endured a difficult night with free throws, so much so that it proved a viable tactic for the Washington Wizards who deliberately sent the Aussie to the line in their 122-114 playoff win over the Philadelphia 76ers.
With superstar teammate Joel Embiid gone for most of Game 4, Bradley Beal’s 27 points, Russell Westbrook’s 12th career playoff triple-double and Washington’s strategy of fouling Ben Simmons whenever possible down the stretch all helped the Wizards beat the 76ers to cut Philadelphia’s series edge to 3-1.
The 76ers led by as many as 11 in the opening period but that was down to 61-60 at halftime. A back-and-forth fourth quarter was tight down the stretch after Danny Green’s layup with under 4 1/2 minutes to go made it 106-all.
But that’s when Washington basically took the ball out of Philadelphia’s hands, sending Simmons to the line repeatedly down the stretch with a version of the old Hack-a-Shaq strategy that Shaquille O’Neal used to face.
Fouled and sent to the line four times with less than three minutes remaining, Simmons went 4-for-8 in a mediocre showing under pressure, allowing the Wizards to negate Philly’s attack in a tense final period.
“Obviously that’s what they’re going to do. That’s what they should do,” Rivers said. “And I’m OK with that.”
Simmons came into the night 0 for 9 on free throws in the series and was 1 for 3 for the night before Hack-a-Ben went into full effect — he made 1 of 2 tries each of the final four times he stepped to the line to end up 5 for 11 by the end of the night.
Asked by a reporter about keeping Simmons in the game while Washington repeatedly fouled him, Rivers replied: “You want me to take Ben Simmons off the floor? No. He’s pretty good. I’ll pass on that suggestion.
“Analytically, if you split all those free throws, offensively, you’d take a point per possession.
“He did that. I had no issues with it. Obviously, I’d love him to hit them both. But I didn’t think that changed the game at all for us.
“I was fine with it. If he had have missed both, and both, and both, then that would be something. But overall, I was fine with it.
Pressed on Simmons again, Rivers added: “You guys keep this Ben Simmons narrative alive, which to me is freakin’ insane how good this guy is, and all the things he does.
“Ben is not a 40-point guy. That’s not what he does. He does other things for you team, and I just don’t understand why that’s not sinking in in our city.
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