The Sixers played the Warriors tough on Saturday night. Playing without Joel Embiid once again, Philly led by 14 points early in the third quarter and rallied back into the game after the Warriors blew by them. It was back and forth into the final seconds. Sure, Golden State ended up pulling out the 120-117 win. But the Sixers had some great open looks in the final minutes that they just missed. There’s nothing to feel down about for Philly fans.
So let’s play every Sixers fan’s favorite game: Second-Guessing Brett Brown’s Crunch-Time Decisions! I enjoy doing this after every close loss. Brett Brown has actually done a very nice job in the five games that Embiid has missed since the All-Star break. The Sixers lost to the Warriors because they got blown out in the third quarter. But this late-game situation against the Warriors on Saturday was garbage.
After T.J. McConnell forced a turnover, the Sixers had the ball down three with 19 seconds left. That’s plenty of time to try to score a quick two and hope the Warriors miss a free throw. Or maybe that’s not a great scenario—the Warriors are fourth in the league at 80.7 percent from the line—and the Sixers should just shoot a three-pointer.
That’s apparently what Brown thought. Simmons took about nine seconds bringing the ball up the court. But by the time he was getting into the offensive setup, he’d been fouled by Draymond Green. And why wouldn’t you foul Simmons there? He’s shooting 59 percent from the line this season. The Sixers’ attempt at a game-tying play was pretty much designed for the Warriors to foul a sub-60 percent free throw shooter.
Simmons made the first FT. Then he turned around, got the instruction from the bench and wildly missed the second free throw. It didn’t even hit the rim, so the Warriors got the ball back. The Sixers would actually get another shot after the Warriors clanked one-of-two, but the refs ruled Tobias Harris stepped out of bounds before attempting a game-tying three.
Brett Brown told reporters postgame he didn’t want to play the free-throw game with the Warriors. “When we don’t have timeouts and I’ve got to do something coming out, I’ll do it all day, every day,” he said. “I don’t feel comfortable with Golden State and especially the fact that I don’t have any timeouts. I think it’s questionable for me if you do have timeouts. When you don’t, that’s what we’re doing.”
Okay, that’s fine. But here’s the problem: By slowing the game down and giving up nine of the final 19 seconds to simply bring the ball up the court, Brett Brown basically forced the 76ers into this not-great intentional-miss scenario. (Draymond Green did complain to the ref after fouling Simmons, but Green just loves to complain to refs all the time.)
When you’re down three against the Warriors with 20 seconds left, you have to hit a three-pointer, or extend the game by scoring quickly and getting into a free-throw game. Or, in a much less likely scenario: The Sixers get fouled, grab a rebound after an intentional miss, then tie or win the game at the buzzer. The Sixers probably cost themselves the game just by bringing the ball up the court slowly.
Plus, it’s Ben Simmons! He’d hit all five of his free throws in the game before. Just let him shoot it for real and he might miss it. Simmons executed his intentional free throw miss pretty well—he basically threw the ball up as soon as he touched it, which is a solid strategy—but it didn’t hit the rim.
It’s actually really hard to intentionally miss a free throw! Last year Bleacher Report’s Sean Highkin interviewed several NBA players about how hard it is to make sure you miss the free throw while also hitting the rim.
Look: The Sixers weren’t in a good position, down three with 19.4 seconds left. Brett Brown didn’t really do them any favors to help them get back into it, though.