Things were aligned for a 76ers rout until the Washington Wizards went to a Hack-A-Ben.
Point guard Ben Simmons was cleared to play Wednesday night after spraining his right ankle two nights before.
The Wizards were tired after arriving in Philly in the wee hours of the morning following Tuesday night's game in Minneapolis.
Washington's best player — four-time NBA all-star point guard John Wall — was sidelined with a left knee injury. The Wizards' second-best player — shooting guard Bradley Beal — missed most of the first half with a bruise on his face.
But the Sixers ended up holding on to a 118-113 victory at the Wells Fargo Center after the Wizards resorted to intentionally putting Simmons on the foul line.
Down 95-81 with 6 minutes, 23 remaining, Washington (11-10) decided to make Simmons beat him from the charity stripe. It's a place where he has converted just 55.4 percent of his attempts this season. The Wizards fouled him whenever he had the ball.
He went on to make 12 of 24 attempts in the quarter while the Wizards kept sending him to the foul line. That tactic enabled Washington to pull within 113-110 after Kelly Oubre's jumper with 39.4 seconds left.
"It's not my rule," Washington coach Scott Brooks said of the strategy. "It's an NBA rule."
Sixers coach Brett Brown considered taking Simmons out of the game.
"I was comfortable that this is what I am doing," Brown said. "He is going to learn from this. We are going to grow him. He's going to be in the NBA 15 years. He's going to have to navigate through this."
The sellout crowd of 20,492 booed the Wizards each time they fouled Simmons. However, he didn't appear to be bothered by the tactic. "I have no fear of taking free throws," Simmons said.
That's why he wasn't surprised that Brown kept him in the game.
"He knows my mentality," Simmons said. "I'm not scared to take the free throws."
He even vowed that teams won't purposely put him on the foul line much longer. Simmons confidently said he's going to start knocking down foul shots.
After the Wizards pulled within three late, Dario Saric responded to Oubre's shot with a basket while being fouled. However, he was called for a technical after spiking the ball. Jodi Meeks converted the technical foul before Saric hit his foul shot to make it a 116-111 game with 22 seconds left.
As a team, the Sixers (12-8) attempted 64 foul shots to set a floor record.
Simmons posted his 10th double-double, finishing with career highs of 31 points and 18 rebounds. Joel Embiid had 25 points, 14 rebounds and four blocks for his fifth straight and team-leading 11th double-double of the season. He fouled out late in the game.
Saric (24 points) and reserve Jerryd Bayless (14) were the other double-digit scores for the Sixers (12-8).
But this night was all about Simmons' return. The rookie-of-the-year favorite sprained his ankle landing awkwardly in the fourth quarter of Monday's loss to the Cavaliers. He wasn't cleared to play Wednesday until after testing out his ankle during the pregame walk-through.
Attacking from the start, Simmons showed no signs of the injury against the Wizards (11-10).
He had seven points and six rebounds after one quarter and 11 points and 11 rebounds by intermission. Simmons went on to make 8 of 16 shots in 40:36. In all, he made 15 of 29 foul shots. It was one attempt shy of the franchise record of 30 set by Wilt Chamberlain on Dec. 1, 1967.
"The thing that I believe, it's such a copy-cat league," Brown said of teams resorting to Hack-A-Ben. "It's so well-coached and well-scouted that you would expect this to happen more and more. And as I said, it's going to be part of his growth. And as a team, we will learn how to deal with it as well."
The 21-year-old is expected to have another test on Thursday in Boston against the Celtics at T.D. Garden. However, he and the Sixers won't have Embiid to lean on. The center will miss the game because he still is not cleared to play on consecutive nights. This will be the third game he has missed this season after having left knee surgery in March.
T.J. McConnell will also miss the game against the Celtics. The reserve point guard suffered a left shoulder contusion in the third quarter. NBC Sports Philadelphia reported that McConnell was heard telling trainers that he heard his shoulder crack. X-rays were negative. He is scheduled to receive an MRI on Thursday.
"That will be tough game," Brown said. "You look forward to it in a twisted way. You go into the Boston Garden. They are waiting for us. They haven't played in three days … We'll go to Boston without Joe and T.J. and fight."