2018 Playoffs | Eastern Conference Semifinals: Celtics (2) vs. 76ers (3)

Ben Simmons struggles during OT loss to Boston Celtics in Game 3

Sixers' 21-year-old star made key mistakes down the stretch on Saturday

* Recap: Celtics 101, Sixers 98 (OT)

One minute you are the toast of the town, the presumptive Rookie of the Year and sitting on top of the basketball world after winning your first-round playoff series and looking like one of the faces of the future of the game. And the next, you’re the scapegoat, the reason the Philadelphia 76ers are in a 3-0 hole in the Eastern Conference semifinals with the season on the brink.

Such is the whirlwind that Sixers rookie Ben Simmons is caught up in right now. The shine of an epic rookie season is being overshadowed by a series filled with struggles against the Boston Celtics. And his late-game miscues are being credited with providing the Celtics everything they needed to take a commanding lead in their semifinal. Did his confidence lead to the meltdown in the final moments of Game 3? Mike Sielski of Phillynews.com believes so:

Simmons possesses some of the greatest gifts of any Sixers player in any era, speed and vision and a willingness to pass that permeates throughout the entire Sixers team, with so much potential yet untapped. But he is still just 21, far from a perfect player, far from a finished product, and this series against the Celtics and Saturday’s 101-98 loss in Game 3 have been loaded with Icarus moments for him, with too many bad decisions born of recklessness and overconfidence.

When Brown pulls him aside for the kind of conversation a coach sometimes must have even with a player as precocious as Simmons, a replay of Game 3 had better already be rolling on the coach’s laptop. Simmons had been awful and overwhelmed in Game 2, scoring just one point in 31 minutes, admittedly lost in his own head because he’d finally encountered a coach, Brad Stevens, who had figured out how to build a wall between Simmons and the basket. The numbers suggest that Simmons was better Saturday – 16 points, 8 of 14 from the field, eight rebounds, eight assists – but those solid statistics don’t tell the full story of his struggles.

There was an embarrassing missed dunk with just more than five minutes left in regulation and the game tied. It was an uncontested attempt, Simmons as open as he would have been if the Wells Fargo Center were empty, and in his haste and desire to demoralize the Celtics, he didn’t take care of his top priority: making sure the ball went through the hoop. There was that inbounds pass in the final seconds of overtime, intended for Joel Embiid and stolen by Al Horford, that lacked the crispness and conscientiousness that every pass in a close, important game must have.

And there was Simmons’ most grievous and inexcusable sin of the night: With the Sixers holding a 98-97 lead, with less than 20 seconds left in overtime, Simmons grabbed the rebound of an Embiid miss and immediately flicked the ball toward the rim from the right baseline. The shot clock was off. There was no need, no good reason, to take any shot at all. Yet instead of holding the ball or passing it to a teammate or dribbling for a few seconds or doing anything else that would have burned so much precious time, Simmons disregarded the context of the game, made a mad grab for glory, and back-rimmed that put-back. Worse, when asked about the sequence, he was defiant, insisting that he’d do it again.

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