During the fourth quarter of Game 7 of the 2021 Eastern Conference semifinals between the Philadelphia 76ers and Atlanta Hawks, Ben Simmons had a wide-open dunk attempt but passed the ball to Matisse Thybulle instead. Thybulle went 1-of-2 from the free-throw line, and after that sequence, the Hawks went on a 5-0 run to go ahead 93-87 with 2:31 left in regulation. They wound up winning 103-96 to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.
June 20, 2021, may have been Simmons’ last game with the Sixers. He has reportedly requested a trade multiple times, and the Sixers are fining him for every game he misses this season.
Every Sixers fan was angry at Simmons when the lefty passed up the open dunk attempt against the Hawks. Although he’s been supportive of Simmons, Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard — who played on the Sixers last season — recently admitted that he was upset too.
Dwight Howard on Ben Simmons passing up dunk: “I wanted him to go up and try to score”
During an interview with Tyler R. Tynes of GQ, Howard said he was “pissed off” when Simmons didn’t dunk the ball in Game 7 against the Hawks. However, the former Orlando Magic superstar doesn’t blame Simmons entirely for the Game 7 loss.
“As a competitor, yeah I was pissed off [laughs]. Who wouldn’t be? I wanted him to go up and try to score,” Howard said. “But he didn’t. And that wasn’t the only reason we lost the game. So I can’t blame that whole situation on him. It’s very unfortunate.”
Simmons shot 33.3% from the free-throw line in the seven-game series against the Hawks. The 25-year-old played 34 minutes in the fourth quarter of Games 4-7 and had zero field-goal attempts. Simmons, the 2017-18 Rookie of the Year, finished the series with averages of 9.9 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 8.6 assists.
Howard was basically Superman in Orlando before things got rocky with the Magic. Simmons was the Fresh Prince in Philadelphia during his first couple of years with the Sixers, but the fans have turned on him after his subpar play against the Hawks. Several Sixers fans posted videos on social media of them burning their Simmons jerseys after the Hawks won Game 7, which is why Howard realizes a fresh start may be suitable for everyone involved.
Dwight Howard: Ben Simmons probably just wants a fresh start
Howard doesn’t know what’s going to happen with Simmons. However, he will continue to speak highly of the point forward.
“People say he isn’t where he needs to be as a player, but I’m proud of his growth,” Howard said. “I’m always gonna stick up for him, he was my teammate. At the end of the day, even if we don’t play on the same team, you still my brother. But he probably just wants a fresh start. That’s why I wanted to leave Orlando. I just wanted a fresh start. It wasn’t nothing wrong with the team or the city. I loved Orlando. Loved Orlando! Every time I left Orlando I couldn’t wait to get back home to Orlando.”
Since making his NBA debut in 2017, Simmons has compiled averages of 15.9 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 7.7 assists. However, he’s only made five 3-pointers and is a career 59.7% shooter from the charity stripe. Sixers fans are ready to move on from Simmons since he can’t shoot and is a poor fit next to Joel Embiid.
Howard knows better than anyone how ruthless fans can be, but he believes Philadelphia fans are taking it too far with Simmons.
Lakers big man: I don’t think the Philly fans have really treated him fairly
In October, Simmons met with the Sixers and informed them he was not mentally ready to play yet. Howard thinks Philly fans, who are cruel sometimes, should cut the LSU product some slack.
“I don’t think the Philly fans have really treated him fairly throughout this whole situation based off what they heard in the media,” Howard said. “They feel like he’s obligated to them. But what if this was your son or daughter or one of your friends dealing with what Ben’s dealing with? How would you handle it? How would you feel?”
Even though the Sixers are frustrated with Simmons, they aren’t going to trade him for crumbs. Philadelphia’s president of basketball operations, Daryl Morey, wants to get a grand return, even though everyone knows that won’t happen.
It will be fascinating to see how the Simmons situation plays out. Even though he plays for the Lakers now, Howard will certainly keep tabs on the affair.