Chicago Bulls legend Scottie Pippen didn't hold back in a recent interview with GQ Magazine's Tyler Tynes. As the former NBA great sat down for an interview to discuss a range of topics, Pippen dished his two cents on the current situation involving the Philadelphia 76ers and their former first-overall pick, Ben Simmons.
Ever since the first-seeded Sixers dropped Game 7 at home to the fifth-seeded Atlanta Hawks, everybody has been looking for somebody to point the finger at and blame. Considering Ben Simmons is a three-time All-Star playing on a max contract, his five points in 35 minutes of action in the do-or-die matchup has been an easy target.
In the most important game of the season, Simmons disappeared offensively. Although he racked up 13 assists and played solid defense on Hawks superstar Trae Young, the veteran point guard took just four shots in the elimination game.
In addition to Simmons' unwillingness to shoot, he was fouled intentionally on many occasions throughout the series because of his free throw struggles.
Throughout the entire 2021 NBA Playoff run, Simmons averaged less than 35-percent from the line. To say he lost the Sixers the second-round series would be a bit of an exaggeration. But to say his shortcomings didn't kill his team when they needed him the most but would be a flat-out lie.
Scottie Pippen watched Simmons, and he saw nothing new from the young guard. "Y’all know he can’t shoot," the Bulls legend said. "Y’all know he don’t look to shoot in the fourth quarter. You know he’s afraid to go to the foul line, he don’t wanna be humiliated, so what are you asking me? I’m not against Ben Simmons. But I think he is who he is."
Pippen doesn't blame Simmons for the Sixers' recent failure necessarily. Instead, he believes it's head coach Doc Rivers' fault for not accepting Simmons' shortcomings as what they are and essentially choosing to stroke the guard's ego rather than prioritize doing what it takes to win.
I watched a lot of games that Doc [Rivers] shouldn’t have had him in, in the fourth quarter. If I give you a deck of cards and I give you a deuce of heart and a deuce of diamond, and we playing Spades, why you keep grabbing those cards when you know you're gonna lose in that category? This kid been this way the whole time and Doc brought him in and set him up for failure. He been like this! And you guys know he been like this. And Doc kept putting him in the game, he kept letting that team do fouls on him. Take him out the game! The Lakers did it with Shaq, and he’s bigger and more dominant and probably more fearless than Ben Simmons. Doc made him be a failure.
The hack-a-Ben strategy was first brought out against the Sixers in the playoffs in the first round against the Washington Wizards. As the Wizards got desperate for a new strategy in Game 4, they challenged Simmons to beat them by sending him to the line.
Washington's strategy was successful as Simmons continued to struggle, and the Sixers fell short in the end. Following the matchup, Rivers was asked if he ever considered removing Simmons from the game to avoid that happening again, to which he got defensive and made it clear that's not an option.
Although Rivers did change his mind about the situation and sat Simmons in critical situations in future games where he might get fouled, the guard's unwillingness to get aggressive offensively continued to be detrimental to his team.
There is plenty of blame to go around for Philly's round two loss in the playoffs this year, but Scottie Pippen is certain that it's Doc Rivers who needs to garner the blame for Ben Simmons' struggles throughout that series.
Justin Grasso covers the Philadelphia 76ers for Sports Illustrated. You can follow him for live updates on Twitter: @JGrasso_.