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Doc Rivers absurdly defends Ben Simmons; the Sixers star doesn’t need it in the NBA playoffs | Marcus Hayes

Sarcasm, scorn, deflection, absurdity won’t hide the fact that Simmons can't shoot. Three-for-six free throws late? “I have no issues with that,” Rivers said.

Sixers coach Doc Rivers said he thinks Ben Simmons' sub-50% free-throw performance is acceptable in the NBA playoffs.
Sixers coach Doc Rivers said he thinks Ben Simmons' sub-50% free-throw performance is acceptable in the NBA playoffs.Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer

I love Doc Rivers. I do not love how Doc Rivers contends that Ben Simmons’ game isn’t flawed.

I very much do not love neither the content nor the condescension with which Rivers mounts his defense. It is beneath his stature to stoop to outlandish expansions on common-sense suggestions, to diminish routine failures by his star, and to suggest that putting points on the scoreboard is, to this game, coincidental, not elemental to it. It insults Rivers, it insults us, it insults Ben, and it insults basketball. And it is unnecessary. Ben Simmons is a grown man.

The Wizards intentionally fouled Simmons three times late in Game 4 on Monday night. Simmons, a horrific free-throw shooter, missed three of the six free throws. The Wizards took the lead for good and avoided a first-round sweep.

A reporter asked why Rivers did not take Simmons out of the game to foil the strategy — at least sit him until the last two minutes, when intentional fouls result in two shots plus retained possession. Doc drenched his replies in sarcasm and scorn:

“No. You wanted me to take Ben Simmons off the floor?! I’ll pass on that one. He’s pretty good, so I’ll pass on that suggestion.”

Later, unprompted, Doc doubled down, with this piece of absurdity:

“With Ben — we’re going to keep him on the floor. Unless you guys want us to bench him for the whole game. If anybody wants us to do that, just let me know. Then I’ll know you don’t know basketball.”

Petulance makes an ugly cape.

Doc is better than this. Doc knows Simmons needed to score more after Joel Embiid got hurt and left the game in the first quarter; Simmons shot just twice more. Twice. He scored just six more points, or two points per quarter. Doc also knows Simmons needed to make more than five of his 11 free throws. As such, Doc knows that Ben Simmons is one big reason the Sixers didn’t sweep their first-round playoff series.

» READ MORE: Beyond the Wizards, the Sixers’ playoff fate depends on Joel Embiid’s injury. | David Murphy

What Doc doesn’t seem to know is that Ben’s a big boy. He needs no one’s defense. As usual, Simmons handled himself like a man after this latest moment of failure. It was neither tragic nor painful. Despite a brilliant tweet that compared his fourth-quarter walks to the foul line to a kid sent to clean his room, Simmons in fact strode to the stripe all three times with confidence. He stared down the shots. He made half of them. Next.

He is what he is

This is an undeniable truth: Ben Simmons has been an offensive liability, especially late in games, in all four of his NBA seasons. Simmons works to diminish his liabilities, chief among them free-throw shooting. Yet, while Simmons makes $30.5 million per season, no healthy player who makes as much money as he does shoots free throws as poorly as he does, or scores as little as he does.

Rivers can try to convince the basketball world that scoring doesn’t matter, or that shooting less than 50% — undefended, from 15 feet — is trivial, but he will not convince anyone. Rivers can shout hyperboles until he’s red in the face, which is what he did Monday night, but the Wizards’ strategy proved effective; they went on a 5-3 run and took the lead for good. No matter how much Doc denied it.

“You guys keep this ‘Ben Simmons Narrative’ alive ... ”

No, Ben Simmons keeps the “Ben Simmons Narrative” alive. Because Ben Simmons won’t shoot from the perimeter, and Ben Simmons generally always misses half his free throws.

“ … Which, to me, is freakin’ insane,” Doc continued, sounding a bit insane himself. “How good this guy is, and all the things he does. Ben is not a 40-point guy.”

Well, Doc’s hyperbole aside, it’s not that Simmons is not a 40-point guy. He’s not even a 20-point guy. In fact, he’s not even a 17-point guy; his best season average is 16.9, two seasons ago, and he was a career-low 14.3 in 2021, which dropped his career average to 15.9 — so, really, he’s not even a 16-point guy. After his 13 points Monday, he’s not even a 15-point guy in the money games; his playoff average is 14.8.

» READ MORE: Another fan incident, Ben Simmons free throws, and other social reactions from Game 4 of Sixers-Wizards

Simmons admitted that he should have scored more after Embiid left.

“I just have to stay aggressive,” he said. “I’m still going to go to the line. I’m not worried about people fouling me, whatever it is. Just got to get up there and knock ‘em down.”

Was he aggressive enough?

“I was a little passive at certain times.”

Déjà vu

Why did the Wizards hack Ben? Tradition, perhaps. On Nov. 29, 2017, the Wizards sent Simmons to the line 29 times in a comeback attempt that barely failed; he missed 14 of the freebies. Lately, he’s been even worse.

Simmons is shooting 49% from the line since April Fools’ Day. Doc must take us all for fools if he thinks that we think that he thinks one-outta-two ain’t bad. No matter how many other things Simmons does well — pressure the defense as a penetrator, hit open men, defend well on the ball and off it, rebound — one-outta-two doesn’t cut it.

As for the rest of Simmons’ talents, Doc knows full well Philly loves the hustle and the heart and the grit. Still, Doc affects to deflect:

“I just don’t understand why that’s not sinking in in our city.”

It sinks in.

“Celebrate all the stuff he does well! We don’t do that enough.”

Yes, we do.

“I didn’t think he was scared of the moment,” Rivers said.


Asked what he would do to combat the Hack-a-Ben strategy in the future, Simmons replied, “Step up and knock ‘em down. For real. I’m not getting discouraged going to the line.”

Bravo. Simmons knows he needs to make more. Doc pretends he doesn’t:

“If you split all those free throws, analytically” — analytically? — “you’ll take a point per possession. He did that. I have no issues with it. I didn’t think that changed the game at all for us.”

No, for Pete’s sake, he wouldn’t, and it’s insulting to say it. Because one point per 100 possessions would be a 100.0 offensive rating (analytics!), which not only would be the worst in the NBA this season — it also would be one of the worst in modern NBA history.

I loved Doc in Orlando when he won coach of the year as a rookie with a .500 team. Loved him in Boston, when he took his only title with the original player-contrived “Big Three.” Loved him in Los Angeles despite his underachievement with Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan, partly because he handled that locker-room circus with aplomb, but mainly because he navigated the Donald Sterling fiasco with grace and strength. I loved it when Rivers replaced Brett Brown in Philadelphia, made Joel Embiid understand what greatness demands, and coalesced a championship-caliber team around Embiid’s myriad strengths.

The Ben Simmons balderdash? This Doc, I do not love.