By Connor Thomas
There were plenty of tweets that came from the Greater Philadelphia Area last night during the Sixers and Wizards Game 4 about the poor officiating. They were not based in a Philadelphia biased fantasy world. It was one of the worst officiated games of the Sixers season. To be fair, the Wizards were getting hosed left and right as well. There were a total of 57 personal fouls over the course of Game 4, way above the average called in a normal NBA game. In an elimination game in the playoffs, we got a clear look at how the product of NBA basketball can be tainted by referees who are unable to swallow the whistle and let the game be decided by the players. Let’s just say that the fan who ran onto the floor (side note, stay in your seats and stop throwing things at players) wasn’t the only person who inserted themselves too much into the game last night. There were points where both benches and the 5 players on the floor for either side found themselves with their hands on their head as whistle after whistle slowed the game to a crawl. It was a game that was painful at points, and not just because of the Sixers underwhelming performance. But let’s be fair; the Sixers still owe that loss to the men in the mirror.
Yes, losing Joel Embiid was huge. It was the main reason the Sixers lost last night, largely dwarfing the referees’ awful performance. The bigger problem out of last night’s game is that Philly looked lost without their anchor, a trend that has shown over the course of this season. There is something to be said about the foul trouble that also caused the Sixers to stumble, but in sports, you have to focus on what you can control. Another one of those things is making free throws. Before we get into this point, I’ll lead by saying this: Ben Simmons is still an incredible basketball player, in spite of his performance at the line last night. What is also true, however, is that it is unacceptable to have a player on the court that a team can elect to foul intentionally away from the ball in an attempt to win. Sure, I think the hack a Ben strategy is a dumb rule, and takes away from the spirit of the game. But the fact of the matter is that when the Sixers needed one of their best players to knock down free throws, he couldn’t. It doesn’t take away from Simmons’ smothering defense, elite distributing, and ability to attack the rim, but it takes away from the Sixers’ ability to win close ball games, and that is absolutely an issue. It doesn’t make Ben Simmons a bad player, however, if Philadelphia wants to win the East, Simmons will have to work to improve on his trips to the charity stripe.
The one other troubling thing, on a night that contained multiple, was the performance of Tobias Harris. He looked much more like the near-invisible 2020 Tobias Harris than the near All-Star that we have grown accustomed to this season. Some of that can absolutely be attributed to the absence of Joel Embiid, something that allowed the Wizards rim protectors more leeway to meet Harris at the rim. That being said, Harris did not seem to be able to create any kind of shot for long stretches of last night’s contest. Everyone is entitled to an off night. It happens to every basketball player that’s ever played the game. Yet with Harris’ track record of playoff underperformance, it was a slightly troubling footnote in a game that left Philly fans very uneasy.
So again, the referees were absolutely awful. They were a large reason the Sixers are heading into Game 5 on Wednesday night, however they weren’t the biggest reason. Everyone should hope and pray that Joel Embiid is fine, Ben Simmons works on his free throw shooting, and Tobias Harris just hit a minor speed bump, or else this playoff run could get tricky. A Game 5 victory and a gentleman’s sweep would certainly go a long way towards settling the fan base down, and with a 100% capacity Wells Fargo Center, it still looks like the Sixers can take care of business.