Last night was an ugly, weird loss to the Washington Wizards. It basically took losing Joel Embiid, Hack-a-Ben, some of the worst officiating I’ve ever seen and Tobias Harris to have an awful shooting night to barely beat the Sixers. The series in my mind, Joel Embiid or not for game 5, ends tomorrow night. The Wells Fargo is going to be rocking and I can’t imagine Washington going into Philly and not losing by double digits. The early line on that is Sixers -5.5 and that is with books figuring that Embiid is out.
But, with all that being said, Ben Simmons has to be better than what he was last night. And I’m not talking about his overall play in this postseason. Overall I think he’s been fantastic, 13.8 ppg, 8.8 ast, 10.3 rbs, 1.3 stl and shooting 64% from the field. Those are the numbers you want to see Ben posting. I do not believe this team needs Simmons to score 20+ a game to win games. What they need is his second to only LeBron court vision, his ability to grab a rebound and go coast to coast putting pressure on the other team and his suffocating defense. All of which he’s provided this team so far in the 2021 playoffs.
But the one monster glaring weakness is the free throw shooting. It has to be better or this team will fail. Period.
You can’t be an All-Star point guard in this league and have this work against you in a playoff game.
When the Wizards started fouling Ben my first thought was, “good.” They have just made a huge mistake. Joel Embiid is out, you need someone to step up. You’re going to give Ben free throws, he’ll hit a few, get the confidence going and take this fourth quarter over. Couldn’t have been more wrong. He looked shook and the strategy worked. Tip your cap to the Wizards, they couldn’t hang playing straight up so they went with the next best thing. Is it kind of corny? Yes but when you are a starting point guard in this league you have to knock down free throws at a minimum 70%. Bare minimum. Last night Ben went 5 for 11 from the free throw line. That is 45%. Which is insane and what’s crazier is that 45% is a wild improvement from his average for the playoffs this year before that which was 0%. Coming into the game 0 for 9.
So far his career FT% in the playoffs, through 26 games is 56%. Has to be better.
This team is better with him on the court. It’s the biggest ‘well duh’ thing you’ll read today. He’s one of the best defenders in the league and when he plays aggressive, he shows flashes of LeBron James lite. But it’s time for him to improve his free throw percentage before it costs this team an opportunity to win a title. If Philly ends up playing Brooklyn and it’s a tight game that becomes a free throw contest. Are we going to feel comfortable with Ben having to match clutch shots at the line vs guys like Kyrie, Harden and KD?
I’m a Ben Simmons fan and supporter. I think he is as critical to this team’s success as Joel Embiid. I didn’t want to see him traded for Harden and I still don’t. He’s only 24 and has his prime ahead of him. But it’s time. It’s time for him to show improvements in the areas where he is a liability to the team’s success.
And right now that is the painted line 15 feet away from the basket.