PHILADELPHIA – The question on the minds of many following the Philadelphia 76ers 120-117 defeat to the Golden State Warriors Saturday night was why? More specifically, why did Ben Simmons deliberately miss a free throw in the dying moments of what could prove to be an NBA Finals preview.
Standing at the free throw line with 10.3 seconds remaining, Simmons had just made the first of two free throws and the Sixers were trailing 119-117. Vitally, Philadelphia had no timeouts remaining, as Brett Brown had already called the Sixers final stoppage moments earlier. Instead of attempting to reduce the margin down to a solitary point, Simmons launched the ball against the backboard, with hopes of creating chaos and an offensive rebound for the Sixers. That was the theory, anyway.
Simmons’ forced heave didn’t hit the rim, drawing a violation and giving the ball back to Golden State with a two-point lead they wouldn’t relinquish. And while Simmons was the one who executed the play, his head coach took responsibility for the decision postgame.
“Absolutely,” Brown emphatically said, when asked if he instructed Simmons to deliberately miss the second free throw. “We brought in Jonah [Bolden] so we could go bigger and you have to hit the rim, obviously, to trigger it but yes."
While Simmons clearly failed in his execution of the play, it is the thought process behind his last ditch heave that raises questions. The lack of a timeout is a prudent reason for attempting such a desperate strategy at the end of a close game but, as we all know, 10 seconds is an eternity within NBA games.
If Simmons had made his second free throw, the Sixers could have played the foul game and, at the very worst, faced a three point deficit with a handful of seconds remaining. Many would argue that provides ample time to attempt a game-tying basket, even without the aid of a timeout to advance the basketball. Although, the one man who had control over the situation, held a different opinion.
“When I don’t have timeouts, and we have to do something coming back, I will do it all day every day,” Brown added. “Miss it and try to go get some level of a put back. I don’t feel comfortable with Golden State and especially the fact that I don’t have any timeouts. I think it is questionable, for me, if you do have timeouts. When you don’t, that is what we are doing.”
Deliberately missing the shot essentially equated to one last spin of the roulette wheel. If Simmons’ heave hits the rim, and the Sixers collect an offensive rebound, then they would have had the opportunity to tie or win the game. These are many aspects of a hypothetical scenario that was never given the chance to play out because of Simmons' inability to hit the rim.
Simmons collected his tenth triple double on the season in defeat, finishing with 25 points, 15 rebounds and 11 assists in 41 minutes of play. He almost added a fourth statistical category to his double-digit collection, finishing with nine turnovers. This is what took Simmons’ attention postgame, as he was asked to explain what went wrong offensively in the second half for the Sixers.
“Turnovers and execution; I think those are the two main things,” Simmons said.
After scoring 67 points in the first half, Philadelphia’s offence lagged after the break and could only muster 50 points, a number that while satisfactory for most teams is well below what the Sixers are capable of. Turnovers played a role in the offensive slippage, as did a drop in intensity from the helter-skelter approach that helped Philadelphia impose a high pace tempo on the game.
Golden State turned the contest into more of a half court battle after intermission, which is a style more suited to their veteran laden team. It was the impetus for an impressive Warriors victory to close their road trip.
While acknowledging the turnovers, Brown was impressed with the performance of his point guard and explained that Simmons had a tremendous game otherwise.
Jonah Bolden played 21 minutes, all in direct opposition of DeMarcus Cousins. With Joel Embiid missing his fifth straight game due to left knee tendinitis, and Boban Marjanovic and Amir Johnson also sidelined, Bolden was the only traditional five man to see minutes for the Sixers. The Australian was frequently overmatched defensively against the four time All-Star, but was able to provide Philadelphia with an offensive boost scoring 12 points, including 3 of 4 shooting form three point range.
“He earned a greater level of consideration for me,” Brown said of Bolden’s performance. “I think it always stands out a lot more when you can make some shots and make some threes. It just stands out more. Because we have seen the other stuff and I think the discipline of playing pick-and-roll defence is something he is getting better at. There is also a physicality that is greater than you would think just looking at his build. I think he helped himself tonight."
Despite the defeat, Simmons believed there were a number of positives that can be taken from a narrow defeat to the two time defending NBA Champions.
“You’re going up against the Warriors, who have a tremendous team, and this group hasn’t been together for that long and I think we’re learning every game. I think it’s a lot of positives that you can take out of this game.”
This is a sentiment Brown shares and the Sixers leading man is hopeful of a return bout in June.
“We take an amazing amount of positives. Everybody lives and dies with every single thing. It’s dramatic and it can’t be for me. There is so much good that came out of this game and we have Joel Embiid coming back. To think you are just going to click your heels and take Tobias Harris and Mike Scott and a newness of which we have and roll in and go out and beat some of these elite teams. It isn’t going to happen, maybe. And we could have.
“So the mission is still the mission. We have 19 games left and however many days, so we take these situational type things and get better at that. That is where my head is at. There are many many positives that can come out of tonight.”