This decision is a lot to Process
It would be silly to blame one play with three and a half minutes left for the Sixers’ Game 7 loss to the Hawks, but Ben Simmons’s decision to pass up an easy dunk was emblematic of the series he had.
With Philly's trailing 88–86, Simmons backed down Danilo Gallinari and spun around him, putting him in the shadow of the rim with only Trae Young in front of him. Simmons could have gone up strong for a dunk that would have tied the game (there’s no way Young could have stopped him), but instead he passed the ball to Matisse Thybulle, who got sandwiched between Gallinari and John Collins. Thybulle made one out of two free throws.
Joel Embiid couldn’t believe that Simmons would pass up such an easy basket.
After the game, Embiid pointed to Simmons’s pass as a pivotal moment in the game.
“I’ll be honest; I thought the turning point was when we—I don’t know how to say it—but I thought the turning point was just, we had an open shot and we made one free throw, and we missed the other and then they came down and scored,” Embiid said. “And we didn’t get a good possession on the other end.”
But Embiid didn’t pin all the blame on Simmons. He also acknowledged that his turnover in the final minute was a costly one. (It was one of eight turnovers for Embiid on the night.)
“Trae came back and he made a three and then from there down four, it’s on me,” Embiid continued. “I turned the ball over and tried to make something happen from the perimeter. But I thought that was the turning point.”
Embiid isn’t being criticized the same way Simmons is, though. The lack of aggression Simmons exhibited on that play was the story of his entire series. Over the course of seven games, he attempted just three field goals in the fourth quarter.
That’s not a recipe for winning basketball games. If one of your two alleged best players simply isn’t a threat to take a shot at the most important points in a game, it hamstrings your offense. It’s completely understandable why Simmons wouldn’t want to take a shot in the fourth quarter (because he’s not good at shooting) but opting not to go up for a dunk is baffling. Basically all he did during the playoffs was dunk! Of his 59 made field goals this postseason, 21 were dunks.
And then there were Simmons’s struggles from the free throw line. He went 15-for-45 on foul shots in the series and 25-for-73 during the postseason overall. That’s 34.2%, the worst percentage in a single postseason for a player with at least 70 attempts.
Simmons wasn’t the only problem for the Sixers in the series, but his poor play has Philly fans ready to send him down the Schuylkill without a paddle. The four years remaining on his five-year, $170 contract extension might make it difficult to ship him out of town, though.
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