Ben Simmons’ poor free throw shooting once again came to the forefront in the fourth quarter of Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Simmons had a brutal Game 6, playing just eight minutes in the first half due to foul trouble. Things didn’t get a lot better in the second. He played the bulk of the third quarter, then picked up his fifth foul with 7:22 left in the fourth. The 76ers stuck with him, but the Hawks quickly shifted to the “hack-a-Ben” strategy, sending him to the free throw line twice in the span of a minute. Simmons went 1-of-2 on both sets of free throws, which actually counted as an improvement on his 32.8 percent free throw shooting in the playoffs. It still wasn’t good enough for coach Doc Rivers, who sat him with six minutes to go and the Sixers up by six.
Simmons didn’t return to the game until there was 1:59 left, by which point the Hawks had cut the deficit to one. From that point on, the 76ers tried to get Simmons in for his defense, but twice sat him for possessions where they knew Atlanta was going to foul. In fact, Rivers used his final timeout with 20.5 seconds left in part to get Simmons off the court ahead of an offensive possession with Philadelphia up three.
In the end, Simmons played 25 minutes in Game 6, and was on the court for less than half of the fourth quarter. Most of the minutes that would typically go to Simmons went instead to rookie guard Tyrese Maxey, who provided a huge spark for the Sixers by scoring 16 points in 29 minutes off the bench. Maxey made three of his four free throw tries in the final minute of play.
The Sixers definitely have a major issue with Simmons. He’s an elite defender, the Sixers want him on the floor and his teammates clearly have his back. However, between his jump-shooting issues and his trouble at the free throw line, he’s been a huge drain on Philly's offensive productivity. Both of Philadelphia’s playoff opponents have now exploited the “hack-a-Ben” strategy to the point that Rivers can’t keep him on the court late in tight games. If the Sixers move on, Brooklyn or Milwaukee will do the same thing. Philadelphia is going to have to come up with a solution.