PHILADELPHIA — After the 76ers bowed out of the playoffs on Sunday after a postseason in which he was historically incapacitated from the free-throw line and struggled to score in the second round, Ben Simmons was blamed.
“I’m not shooting this series well from the line,” Simmons said after the Sixers lost 103–96 to the Atlanta Hawks in Game 7. “Offensively I wasn’t there. I didn’t do enough for my teammates. … There are a lot of things I have to work on.”
The three-time All-Star put it mildly.
He shot 15-for-45 (33%) on fouls against Atlanta and 34.2% of the line for the 2021 overall playoffs, which was the worst free throw percentage in NBA playoff history for a player with at least 70 tries, according to research by ESPN Stats & Information.
The Hawks kept him under 10 points in four of seven games in the conference semifinals, including his five-point show on Sunday.
He was particularly unreliable towards the end of the games, failing to attempt a single shot in five out of seven games in the fourth quarter, with many believing the disappearing act was directly related to his lack of confidence in the free range. throw line.
After a series that will be remembered by Philadelphia fans as a missed opportunity, the Sixers forfeited a 2-1 series lead by failing to protect an 18-point cushion in Game 4 and a 26-point lead. in Game 5 and then lost Game 7 at the Wells Fargo Center, where the team had held the best home record in the league for the past two seasons – Joel Embiid said he believed Simmons chose not to take in the fourth inning what appeared to be an open chance under the basket. quarter Sunday finally became the turning point in the loss.
“Man, I’ll be honest. I thought the turning point was, you know, when we, I don’t know how to say it, but I thought the turning point was we just had an open shot and we made a free throw and we missed the other one and they came down and scored,” Embiid said.
The streak he referred to came in 3:29 when Simmons posted Danilo Gallinari, dodged him with a spin to get to the basket and instead of going for the score himself, he passed the ball to Matisse Thybulle, who made a foul. received. on a layup attempt, with the Sixers trailing 88-86.
Thybulle was 1-for-2 and the Hawks sprinted quickly 5-0 to lead 93-87 with 2:31 to go.
“I just assumed Gallo came on my back,” Simmons explained. “And then [John] Collins has moved [of the lane], so I thought we just had a wide open dunk.”
Simmons, who turns 25 next month and owes $140.4 million over the next four seasons, admitted he must overcome a mental hurdle.
“The first thing I’m going to do is clear my head and get my mental back in order,” he said. “You have to be mentally strong. You can’t take games for granted. Especially in the play-offs. Every game is important. Every possession is important.”
Sixers coach Doc Rivers was given a post-game question that gets to the heart of where Philadelphia stands as a franchise after a fourth straight season that failed to make it past the second round with Simmons as the base: Can the 76ers expect to win a championship with him as their point guard?
“I don’t know that question or the answer to it right now,” Rivers said. “So I don’t know the answer to that.”
Though he was outwardly sullen about the result of the series, Simmons defended himself when a reporter suggested that his regular-season All-Star impact tends to shrink into the spotlight after the season.
“How many assists have I had?” he asked, referring to his 13 dimes.
“What did Trae . do [Young] shooting?” he asked, drawing attention to the Hawks star’s 5-for-23 shooting night, with many of those misses with Simmons on his way.
“I’m not going to let you say that,” he said of the post-season characterization of his struggles. “We lost, it sucks. I am who I am. It is what it is. It’s not easy to win. And it shows. The Nets were killed by the Bucks. It’s not easy to win . And I work.”
Rivers also stood up for Simmons, attributing Young’s struggle to Simmons’ presence.
“That’s what Ben did. And so there was a positive for Ben,” Rivers said. “Even though people are mad at him. But defensively he did his job tonight on Trae.”
But Embiid, after saying “it just felt like this was going to be our year”, wouldn’t commit to wanting to roll it back next year with the same core in place.
“That’s a tough question,” he said.
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