CHICAGO – Ben Simmons couldn’t recall winning a game from the free throw line at any level before Thursday night.
Still, the rookie stepped to the line with the confidence of a veteran.
Simmons scored a career-high 32 points, making two free throws with 5.6 seconds left to complete Philadelphia’s rally from five points down in the final minute, and the 76ers beat the Bulls 116-115.
“Stepping up to the line, I knew I was going to knock ’em down. You have to have that mentality,” he said.
Joel Embiid had 30 points and 13 rebounds, and Simmons added 11 assists and seven rebounds as Philadelphia won its sixth straight and snapped a four-game road losing streak.
Bobby Portis had a career-high 38 points, and Zach LaVine added 23 for the Bulls, who were 18 for 34 on 3-pointers.
“He’s a guy that continues to grow and develop,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said of Portis. “It’s been fun to see him shooting the ball without any hesitation.”
The Bulls had a 115-114 lead and the ball with eight seconds to go before Embiid deflected an inbounds pass to create a turnover. Simmons came up with the ball near midcourt and was fouled by Denzel Valentine. He made both free throws.
Portis had a chance for a game winner, but his short attempt – with Embiid closing from the weak side – just missed.
The 76ers raced to a 25-7 lead midway through the first quarter before Portis got hot and the Bulls started making 3s.
Philadelphia’s lead was down to 33-29 at the end of the quarter, and the Bulls busted out for 40 points in the second to take a 69-67 halftime lead. the Bulls were 9 of 12 on 3-pointers in the quarter, including 4 for 5 by Portis.
The 76ers were up by five early in the fourth before Portis scored six straight points – on a 3-pointer and a three-point play – to put the Bulls on top 101-100. A few minutes later, Portis dunked over Embiid to stretch the lead to 111-106 with just over four minutes to play.
LaVine hit a 3-pointer to make it 115-110 with 1:02 left.
Bulls: To look at some younger players during the final 25 games, center Robin Lopez and guard/forward Justin Holiday were removed from the starting lineup. Both were inactive Thursday as Cristiano Felicio and David Nwaba (21 points) started; also, Cameron Payne – who played in his first game Thursday – will replace Jerian Grant as the backup point guard.
“It really is hard,” Hoiberg said. “It’s hard for Robin, it’s hard for Justin and it’s hard for Jerian, who’s probably making as big a sacrifice as anybody.”
76ers: Center Embiid has nine straight double-doubles. ... Simmons has six triple-doubles this season, which ties him with Wilt Chamberlain (three times) and Billy Cunningham for most in a season in team history.
Bulls: Visit Minnesota Saturday night.
76ers: Host Orlando on Saturday.