One of the NBA's most controversial strategies reared its head in an ugly way in front of the league commissioner

  • The Washington Wizards intentionally fouled the Philadelphia 76ers' Ben Simmons on Wednesday to make him shoot free throws while they chipped away at a lead.
  • Simmons shot 24 free throws in the fourth quarter, an NBA record for most attempts in a single quarter.
  • Intentional fouling has been on the decline since the NBA tweaked the rules around it two years ago, but it remains a divisive strategy.


One of the NBA's most controversial strategies reared its head on Wednesday in the Philadelphia 76ers' 118-113 win over the Washington Wizards.

In the fourth quarter, the Wizards turned to intentionally fouling rookie forward Ben Simmons, who entered the game a 56% free throw shooter.

Intentional fouling has long been a controversial subject in the NBA. Proponents argue that it's a just rule and smart strategy if a player can't make free throws. It can help a team get back in the game if a player is missing the free throws. Opponents argue how aesthetically displeasing it is to halt all momentum and watch a player shoot free throws.

On Wednesday, however, it was taken to another level. The Wizards fouled Simmons repeatedly, sending him to the free throw line for 24 free throw attempts in the fourth quarter alone, an NBA record for a single quarter. Prior to the game, the high for most free throw attempts in a game this season was 22. Simmons broke it in a single quarter.

To make matters worse, all of this came with NBA commissioner Adam Silver in attendance.

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Ben Simmons' record number of foul shots in one quarter
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Ben Simmons' record number of foul shots in one quarter
PHILADELPHIA,PA - NOVEMBER 29 : Ben Simmons #25 of the Philadelphia 76ers shoots a foul shot late in the game against the Washington Wizards at Wells Fargo Center on November 29, 2017 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA,PA - NOVEMBER 29 : Ben Simmons #25 of the Philadelphia 76ers shoots a foul shot late in the game against the Washington Wizards at Wells Fargo Center on November 29, 2017 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA,PA - NOVEMBER 29 : Ben Simmons #25 of the Philadelphia 76ers shoots a foul shot late in the game against the Washington Wizards at Wells Fargo Center on November 29, 2017 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA,PA - NOVEMBER 29 : Ben Simmons #25 of the Philadelphia 76ers shoots a foul shot late in the game against the Washington Wizards at Wells Fargo Center on November 29, 2017 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA,PA - NOVEMBER 29 : Ben Simmons #25 of the Philadelphia 76ers shoots a foul shot late in the game against the Washington Wizards at Wells Fargo Center on November 29, 2017 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA,PA - NOVEMBER 29 : Ben Simmons #25 of the Philadelphia 76ers shoots a foul shot against the Washington Wizards at Wells Fargo Center on November 29, 2017 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - NOVEMBER 29: Ben Simmons #25 of the Philadelphia 76ers attempts a foul shot in the fourth quarter against the Washington Wizards at the Wells Fargo Center on November 29, 2017 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The 76ers defeated the Wizards 118-113. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA,PA - NOVEMBER 29 : Ben Simmons #25 of the Philadelphia 76ers shakes hands with Jerryd Bayless #0 against the Washington Wizards at Wells Fargo Center on November 29, 2017 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA,PA - NOVEMBER 29 : Ben Simmons #25 of the Philadelphia 76ers is interviewed by Molly Sullivan after the win against the Washington Wizards at Wells Fargo Center on November 29, 2017 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)
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Wizards head coach Scott Brooks defended the strategy after the game, saying: "It's not my rule, it's an NBA rule. Just trying to do whatever it takes to cut the lead. His free throw percentage is not good at the moment so it gave us a chance to shoot 3s while they hopefully miss free throws."

The strategy worked, too, as Simmons went 15-29 overall and 12-24 in the fourth quarter. Over the final 7:23, when Simmons checked in in the fourth quarter, the Wizards outscored the Sixers 37 to 25. The Sixers, however, had built up a big enough lead to withstand the run, and were helped by Simmons making six of his final eight attempts.

While intentional fouling has become a less frequent strategy, when it is used, it's a reminder of its divisiveness. 

Before the 2016-17 season, the NBA tweaked the rules for intentional fouling. If a team commits an intentional foul within the last two minutes of any quarter, the team that was fouled gets one free throw and possession of the ball. A source within the NBA league office says intentional fouling has declined since the rule and they are pleased with the results so far.

Still, the next time a team uses the strategy, it is sure to become a topic of conversation again, riling up people who think the strategy should be eliminated altogether.

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