One could argue that the biggest roller coaster of fan emotion surrounding the 76ers has nothing to do with Joel Embiid’s health.
It has a lot to do with Ben Simmons’ performances.
Some folks want him on the first plane out of Philadelphia International Airport following low-scoring and/or poor foul-shooting performances. Yet, the three-time All-Star is adored and celebrated whenever he comes up big.
No one knows that more than Simmons, who finished with his third career postseason triple-double in Wednesday’s opening-round series-clinching victory over the Washington Wizards.
He was praised for finishing with 19 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds in the 129-112 Game 5 win at the Wells Fargo Center. As a result, Simmons is now second behind Wilt Chamberlain (eight) in Sixers career postseason triple-doubles.
He also made three of four foul shots when the Wizards went to the Hack-a-Ben tactic in the first half.
This came two days after he was criticized for making just 4 of 8 free throws when Washington employed the Hack-a-Ben in the fourth quarter of Game 4′s 122-114 loss. Simmons finished 5-of-11 from the foul line and only attempted two of his five shots after intermission.
The performance became a major talking point on local sports talk radio and in barbershops. However, Simmons was cherished Wednesday after the Sixers advanced to the Eastern Conference semifinals, where they will face the Atlanta Hawks.
Simmons commented about that on Instagram: “They love me. They love me not. They love me. They love me not,” with a flower and a laughing face.
Unlike Monday, the Hack-a-Ben strategy backfired in Game 5.
The Wizards were ahead, 50-46, and had control of the game when they began intentionally fouling Simmons with 3 minutes, 27 seconds left in the half.
He split a pair of free throws during his first trip to the line to pull the Sixers within three points. Washington deliberately fouled him again on Philly’s next possession. This time, Simmons sank both foul shots to cut the deficit to 51-49. His free throws reversed the momentum.
The Sixers took their first lead at 58-57 on Tobias Harris’ three-pointer at 1:07 before intermission.
“I keep saying it: Let’s stick with him,” coach Doc Rivers said. “He’s a helluva player, just stick with him. He’s a helluva player. But he’s also human, he’s going to have some great games.
“Far more great games and less bad. That’s who he is.”