Jonah Bolden made starter status for the first time in his NBA career, and Ben Simmons imposed his physicality on the Phoenix Suns, as the Philadelphia 76ers limped to a 132-127 on Wednesday night.
Simmons finished with a season-high 29 points and six assists in 40 minutes of action, while Bolden tallied 4 points and four rebounds in 16 minutes.
Playing shorthanded on the second night of a back-to-back, this had the makings of a trap game for the Sixers as they ended a season-long five-game road trip. Any concerns were quickly nullified, when the Suns offered little deterrent through the opening three quarters. The final margin flattered a Phoenix team that was down by 30 points midway through the third quarter. A lethargic finish from the Sixers allowed Phoenix to bridge the gap, but the result was never under serious threat.
The trio of Simmons, Joel Embiid and J.J. Redick finished with 98 points and were a remarkable 40-52 combined from the free-throw line. The Sixers were sent to the free-throw line a season-high 54 times as a team.
Simmons’ 23 free-throws are the second highest single game total of his NBA career, ranking only behind a November 2017 content where the Washington Wizards deployed the ‘Hack-A’ strategy and sent Simmons to the line 29 times. Phoenix deployed similar strategy tonight, deliberately fouling Simmons four times in the game’s final minutes. Simmons was 5-8 at the free-throw line during this stretch.
Like Simmons, Joe Embiid crushed an inexperienced Suns frontcourt en route to a dominant 42 point and 18 rebound performance.
With Jimmy Butler and Wilson Chandler inactivate due to an upper respiratory infection, Bolden started alongside Simmons for the first time in the NBA. It offered the best birthday present imaginable for Bolden as he celebrated his 23rd birthday.
Bolden’s first career start was plagued by foul trouble early on, as the birthday boy picked up three fouls in the opening five minutes of the game. Despite the early fouls, Bolden's defence was largely impressive and he showed the talents that make him an intriguing frontcourt option alongside Joel Embiid.
Bolden’s ability to slide his feet and leverage his athleticism to switch across multiple positions was on display for the second night running. The Australian rookie is gradually showing more aptitude on the defensive end as his minute’s ramp up, and this is slowly elevating him up Brett Brown’s rotation.
The Sixers return home with a winning 3-2 records on their longest road trip of the season. Philadelphia has two nights off before hosting Ryan Broekhoff and the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday night at the Wells Fargo Center.