By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)
— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) November 30, 2017
Philadelphia 118, Washington 113 – Box Score
Playing a Wizards team missing John Wall and that had arrived in Philadelphia around 3am after playing in Minnesota Tuesday night, it looked like the Sixers were set to coast to another blowout victory. Philadelphia entered the fourth quarter ahead by 19, at which point the contest ceased resembling a normal basketball game.
After some sloppy play by the Sixers and a stretch of hot shooting from pre-Process era Sixer Jodie Meeks (season-high 21 points), Washington had cut the deficit to eight with five minutes left in the game. At that time, Wizards head coach Scott Brooks decided to start intentionally fouling Ben Simmons. Over the next three minutes of game time, Simmons was hacked ten times, going 11-20 from the line in the process.
It was an excruciating sequence of basketball to watch, happening ironically on a night when commissioner Adam Silver was in the arena and had said earlier in an interview with the Sixers announcing team that he was comfortable with the intentional foul rules. Thanks to the continued march to the charity stripe in the fourth quarter, the Sixers attempted 64 free throws, one short of the franchise record. The fourth quarter lasted longer than the 2016 election cycle. Entire bitcoin fortunes were made and lost in the interim.
Aside from Philadelphia scoring 11 points on 10 possessions being a slightly better defensive strategy than what the Wizards had been doing prior, the strategy seemed to rattle the young Sixers. Joel Embiid picked up a foul trying for an offensive rebound off one of the missed free throws, and then collected a technical arguing the call. He would foul out of the game shortly thereafter. Simmons, seemingly frustrated by his inability to end the farce by knocking down his shots, had a terrible foul while playing defense out to half court.
Washington was able to trim the deficit all the way down to three points. Thankfully for Sixers fans, it was just too big of a lead for Philadelphia to give up entirely. Thanks to a couple timely Dario Saric and-ones in the final minutes, the Sixers hung on, despite 48 fourth-quarter points for the Wizards. Saric was excellent on the night, recording 24 points and 8 rebounds, while shooting 8-12 from the field and a perfect 7-7 from the foul line.
While the fourth quarter fouling was frustrating from an aesthetic viewing experience, it also overshadowed what should have been a “the Sixers have the best pair of young players in the league” celebration. Simmons needs to iron out his free throw issues (he was 15-29 on the night), but he still finished with rookie career-highs of 31 points and 18 rebounds, adding 4 assists, 2 steals, and 2 blocks. The man looks unnaturally poised for his age and finds passing angles that only someone with his unique combination of size and vision could even contemplate. Simmons had one cross-court pass to Robert Covington in the corner that must have traveled about 30 feet in the air and was right on the money for three points.
Before fouling out, Joel Embiid was dominant on both ends with 25 points, 14 rebounds, 4 assists, and 4 blocks. Wizards center Marcin Gortat is an enormous man dubbed the Polish Hammer, and Embiid managed to make him look miniscule out there; Gortat collected just 2 rebounds in 21 minutes of action. In addition to the four blocks, JoJo altered a ton of Wizards attempts in the painted area. One sequence between he and Ben Simmons in the second quarter was basically the thesis statement for having two elite athletes around 7 feet tall who can do everything on the court.
The Sixers did suffer an injury on the night, as T.J. McConnell left the game in the second half with what the team later diagnosed as a shoulder contusion. It doesn’t sound at all serious, but given the team’s track record with shoulders recently, McConnell might be shut down for the season.
Ultimately, a win’s a win, but Ben will have to improve his free throw shooting if we don’t want to be exposed to plenty more nightmarish viewing experiences in the future. We’ll see if Brad Stevens opts to utilize the strategy Thursday night in Boston. Embiid will be out for that one, resting on the second game of a back-to-back.