Ben Simmons eclipsed his previous career high of 31 by hitting the go-ahead free throws in the final seconds against the Bulls. Simmons finished the night with 32 points and 11 assists, combing with Joel Embiid for 62 of the Sixers 116 points. But it was the final free throws that were the most important points on Thursday. Just a 56.5 percent free throw shooter heading into the game, Simmons had already missed four free throws before stepping up to the line with 5.6 seconds left to play. It was his second shot that gave the Sixers just enough to get by. This is a good lesson for Simmons. As the season winds down, the games will get harder. Many games will be closer and in those close games, teams will go after him and his perceived weakness at the free throw line. This time he prevailed.
Portis finished with a career-high 38 points off the bench against the Sixers. Although a career night couldn't have been predicted, the Sixers should have been ready for a good night from Portis. He had a 12-point, 10-rebound double-double in the Bulls first meeting with the Sixers this season, then on Jan. 24, he had 22 points and 12 rebounds against the Sixers. On Thursday, as Simmons made his career night a winner with free throws, Portis took the final shot for the Bulls that could have won the game, but was unable to convert at the last second.
It's a funny twist that the Sixers won the game with free throws. The Sixers made 21-of-35 free throws against Chicago. For the season they are shooting 76.3 percent from the charity stripe which is a far cry from the 60 percent they shot against the Bulls. Not only are misses detrimental but a majority of the Sixers missed free throws came at times when they were tied or within two points of the Bulls, so a chance to create distance or cut a lead was floundered. Even JJ Redick, who is one of the leagues best shooters from the free throw line missed one. But of course, it was the two at the end that mattered.
The Bulls hit 9-of-12 three-pointers (75 percent) in the second quarter where they outscored the Sixers 40-34 to take a two-point lead into halftime. Portis hit 4-of-5 threes in the second and Zach LaVine also got hot hitting 3-of-4 from downtown in the period. For a 35.6 percent three-point shooting team the quarter was out of character but also not well defended once they got hot.