PHILADELPHIA — Scott Brooks refused to apologize for his comeback methods Wednesday night. Down 24 points to the surging Philadelphia 76ers, Brooks turned to desperate measures, searching for ways to motivate his team within the confines of the NBA rule book.
First, he benched most of his starters, replacing them with a more energetic crew off the bench. Then, Brooks employed a hack-a-Ben Simmons tactic in the fourth quarter that turned the game into a free throw shooting contest and enraged a capacity Wells Fargo Center crowd.
After the game, the coach did not care about sparing feelings — those of his listless starters or the announced crowd of 20,492.
"The message is you've got to play hard. I'm a simple coach," Brooks said. "You play hard. You play for your teammates. If you don't do that, I've got to figure out who will."
And Brooks had zero regrets for the strange final quarter in which Simmons, the prized rookie who is very much a part of Philadelphia's process, had to attempt 24 free throws in the final 9:17.
Asked whether he felt intentionally fouling an opponent "is good for the game" — with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver in attendance to boot — Brooks shot back: "It's not my rule. It's an NBA rule."
And as painful and boring as it was to watch Simmons brick free throws, the rule worked in the Wizards' favor.
Simmons made 12 free throws in the fourth quarter, but he propped up his percentage late when he hit six straight. Other than that, Simmons was shaky, and the final quarter dragged. Still, the Wizards scored 48 points — the most for the franchise in more than 32 years, according to Elias Sports Bureau — and trimmed the lead to three points in the final minute.
"I loved it," Bradley Beal said of the tactic. "I got to trash talk, too, to get him to miss a few, but we definitely extended the length of the game with that. That's what kept us in the game."
"Fans are going to boo," Kelly Oubre Jr. added, "but boo your team for missing all those free throws."
For the second straight game, Oubre infused the game with energy coming off the bench.
Oubre logged only 8:15 of action in the fourth — he was forced to leave the game after busting open his chin, requiring six stitches — but scored a team-best 22 points. Jodie Meeks chipped in 21 while playing the entire fourth quarter alongside spark plugs Tomas Satoransky, Ian Mahinmi and Chris McCullough. The crew inherited an 84-65 deficit but carried the load as most of the starters turned into fourth-quarter observers.
"We're down 24, they had their chance, and it wasn't looking too good," Brooks said about the starters and his "easy" decision to stick with the reserves.
"Some nights the starters aren't going to play well, and that's when you have the bench come in and vice versa," Brooks continued. "If people are complaining about that, they're in the wrong business."
Still, the bench's efforts could not overcome the play of Philadelphia's trio of Simmons, Joel Embiid and Dario Saric.
Before Embiid hit Beal in the act of shooting for his sixth foul, he dominated the Wizards with 25 points, 14 rebounds and four blocks. Simmons may want to go practice his free throws but steadied his game with a game-high 31 points, 18 rebounds and four assists. And Saric contributed 24 points as Philadelphia (12-8) looked as talented and deep as advertised while the Wizards (11-10) looked vulnerable without their star power.
With his team already missing John Wall for at least the next two weeks with a left knee injury, Beal took an errant elbow to his face in the first quarter, causing him to miss the rest of the first half.
His departure raised the question of whether the Wizards could keep their heads above water without their two all-stars. The answer was predictable — the 76ers raced to a 20-point lead and entered intermission up 58-40.
The Wizards' decision-making with the 7-footer clogging the middle was, at best, questionable, and when Embiid wasn't sending their shots back, Washington's perimeter shooting without Beal was lacking (33.3 percent).
Even before Beal's injury, the Wizards showed signs of offensive lethargy. On the second night of a road back-to-back set, Washington started the game by missing seven of its first eight attempts. Markieff Morris, playing back home in Philadelphia, took the opening two shots — a pullup 14-foot jumper that seemed like a statement that he wanted to make up for his forgettable game the previous night in Minneapolis, followed by a shot at the rim that Embiid rejected.
Morris played only 17 minutes, scored in single digits for the third straight game and sat the entire fourth quarter.
Other teammates had just as rough a start as Morris. Otto Porter Jr., fresh off his star turn in the Wizards' win in Minnesota, didn't quite have the same magic. One night after hitting the game-deciding jumper, Porter misfired on 11 of 14 shots and scored just eight points.
Their sluggish offensive numbers aside, this starting frontcourt, along with center Marcin Gortat, failed to compete under the glass. With about four minutes remaining in the half, the 6-10 point guard Simmons had collected more rebounds (nine) than the entire Wizards' starting cast. For the game, the 76ers controlled the glass for a 64-35 advantage.
"The pace is slow. We're just coming out with no energy," Beal said. "I think that's pretty much all it is. Energy and effort. We've got the talent. We showed that we can do it late in games. It's just a matter of getting off to great starts."
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