The basketball conundrum that is Ben Simmons was brutally exposed in the 76ers’ wild 117-115 defeat against the Thunder on Sunday.
Simmons was immense for most of the contest — putting up a statline of 20 points, nine assists and 15 rebounds — and played exceptional defence as the Sixers almost pulled off a miracle.
Trailing by three points with 15 seconds to play, Joel Embiid drew a shooting foul on Russell Westbrook on a triple attempt and boldly made all three free throws to tie the game.
The Thunder immediately in-bounded the ball but Simmons trapped Dennis Schroder and forced him into an awful pass to mid-court, which Jimmy Butler intercepted. It really could have been recorded as the Australian’s 10th assist.
Butler raced to the basket and made a contested lay-up to give Philadelphia a two-point lead, but after a Thunder time-out Paul George continued the epic back-and-forth by making a three-pointer, plus a bonus free throw after Butler impeded his landing.
The 76ers had five seconds to recover the two-point deficit and the ball was put in Simmons hands.
He dribbled quickly to the three-point line and appeared to have a lane to the basket. But he was determined to get the ball into Butler’s hands despite appearing to have the better opportunity to score.
Butler was double-teamed and forced up a three-pointer that never looked like going in — and the game was gone.
George finished with 31 points, six rebounds, five assists and three steals. Westbrook had 21 points, 10 rebounds and six assists and reserve Schroder also scored 21 points.
The Thunder had dropped five of six, including a 138-128 overtime loss against the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday.
Embiid, who was a game-time decision because of back tightness, had 31 points, eight rebounds and six assists and JJ Redick scored 22 points.
Oklahoma City led by as many as 16 points in the first quarter, but Philadelphia rallied in the second and trailed 59-56 at the break.