- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 30, 2017

Life without John Wall has shown the gap between creativity and anarchy is slim.

Washington coach Scott Brooks closed Tuesday night’s game without Wall by not using a point guard. Instead, he put Bradley Beal, Kelly Oubre, Otto Porter, Mike Scott and Ian Mahinmi on the floor. It worked.

Wednesday in Philadelphia surpassed that odd structure, particularly in the off-the-rails fourth quarter between the Wizards and 76ers.

Washington trailed by 19 points going into the quarter. Beal had been struck in the face with an elbow earlier in the night. The blow caused his nose to swell and white cotton to be jammed in his right nostril to stifle bleeding. It seemed a fitting microcosm for the situation following the Wizards’ listless and ineffective three quarters.

But, Oubre’s short jumper midway through the fourth quarter cut the 76ers’ lead to 12. That’s when Brooks, known more for primary decisions than a palette of blended colors, decided to start fouling Philadelphia point guard and runaway Rookie of the Year candidate Ben Simmons, who makes about half of his free throw attempts.

By the end of the quarter, Simmons had taken an NBA-record 24 free throws. Meanwhile, the Wizards crept back into the game during the fouling process, getting the lead all the way down to one possession before eventually losing, 118-113.

The group Washington did it with — Tomas Satoransky, Jodie Meeks, Oubre, Chris McCullough and Ian Mahinmi — was an even more unlikely ensemble than the one to finish the game the night before. Satoransky, Meeks, McCullough and Mahinmi played the entire fourth quarter. Beal played 3:23 in the quarter before fouling out after compiling three consecutive fouls when tagging Simmons in order to send him to the line. Porter played 22 seconds. No other starter set foot on the floor.

“Coach is putting guys out there who he thinks are going to give him energy and give him what he wants,” Beal said. “Guys aren’t producing and he’s getting tired of it. He’s going to put guys on the floor who want to compete. That’s what brought us back into the game. Satoransky hasn’t played all year and he’s ready to go.”

The result was Simmons’ free-throw record, another loss and an almost unwatchable portrayal of basketball directly in front of NBA commissioner Adam Silver, who was in attendance and has changed league rules in order to combat the strategy of intentionally fouling.

Brooks was succinct about the strategy.

“It’s not my rule, it’s an NBA rule,” Brooks told reporters.

Philadelphia coach Brett Brown understood.

“I mean we’ve done it ourselves,” Brown said. “This one was done early and it did stretch out the game. It was done in my old life with Bruce Bowen [in San Antonio] a lot. And then you’re in a decision, do you take him out of the game or do you roll with him? And tonight, we decided to roll with Ben. And it’s going to be part of his evolution. He’s going to have a long career, he’s going to have to learn to navigate through this.”

Simmons kept it simple.

“Make the free throws,” Simmons said. “That’s it. I’m not trying to miss them. I step up. I have no fear of taking free throws.”

The strategy produced three astonishing numbers. The first was Simmons’ number of free throws. The second was that Philadelphia finished the game with 79 rebounds because of Washington’s poor shooting and increased possessions. The last was that Washington scored 48 points in the fourth quarter. That’s the most in a quarter by any team this season.

All the extremes can tie back to Wall not being available. He is six days into what the team projected to be a two-week hiatus to rest his ailing left knee. Without him, the creative side of Brooks has come out and wild results have followed.

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