By Being Himself, Simmons Steps Up
Of the 12 shots Ben Simmons took in Monday’s landslide victory over the Brooklyn Nets, the most telling was no doubt his first - and it didn’t even go in.
After pledging to be more aggressive following a tough outing in Game 1, the All-Star delivered on his word.
Within five seconds of the ball being tipped Monday, Simmons had sped across the midcourt line, slashed to his left to get into the lane, and attempted a 6-foot right-handed runner.
So it rattled off the back of the rim. Big deal.
The sequence proved to be the precursor to a critical theme that carried through the rest of the night.
For anyone eager to see if Simmons would adopt a different approach in Game 2, confirmation came immediately.
Five minutes in, he had already accounted for half of the Sixers’ 14 points. First there was a driving lay-up, then a five-foot post-up turnaround jumper on the block, and finally another running score.
Ben Simmons had activated attack mode, and it was plain to see for everyone in The Center. The resulting pain was the Nets’ to endure.
“I thought Ben was excellent, he really picked it up,” said Brooklyn head coach Kenny Atkinson. “Obviously his athleticism and size and his activity was very good. It caused us a lot of problems.”
The assessment was spot on, especially the “obvious” part.
On the heels of being held to nine points on nine shots in Saturday’s Eastern Conference Quarterfinals opener, Simmons authored the type of versatile statline we’ve grown to expect from him.
The 22-year old finished with 18 points (8-12 fg), 10 rebounds, 12 assists, and two steals. He’s now the third player in franchise history to register multiple playoff triple-doubles in his career, which, by the way, happens to be a mere two seasons old.
Charles Barkley also had two post-season triple-doubles. Wilt Chamberlain cranked out eight.
“He was really, really aggressive, getting everyone involved. That’s how we want him to play every single night or day,” Jimmy Butler said of Simmons. “I love him whenever he’s playing like that. I think he makes our team a lot better.”
Butler’s statement would be hard to refute.
Maybe it’s overly simplistic and makes for an easy, convenient narrative to attribute Simmons’ success Monday to a change in mindset. But the way we saw it, that was the most prominent variable.
Yes, Brooklyn had to adjust the personnel it used on Simmons in Game 2 due to injury (Jared Dudley); however, the Nets went into the evening with roughly the same defensive philosophy - sag, and form an interior wall when possible.
The Sixers also gave Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris opportunities to bring the ball up, which, when those players were grouped with Simmons, let the 2016 no. 1 pick do other things in the half court.
But really, what the second time around against Brooklyn was all about in respect to Simmons was a seemingly increased sense of determination to impose his will. He drove to the basket a couple more times than he did in Saturday’s loss, and converted shots with a higher degree of difficulty.
Brett Brown praised Simmons for his work on fellow All-Star D’Angelo Russell in Monday’s game-changing third quarter as well.
“I think for him to respond the way that he did, he was extremely aggressive,” said Brown. “I thought his defensive effort on D’Angelo was spectacular, his aggression especially.”
Simmons on Monday was the Sixers’ spark, and, for a handful of reasons, ensured his club left South Philadelphia with a split of its first two opening round games.
He was back to his normal self, as he said he would be, making Saturday look like an aberration.
“I got a lot of love for this city and the fans here,” Simmons said. “Every time I step on the floor I try and play as hard as I can. I was just showing that. The hustle I try and give each and every game is not only for my teammates, my family, it’s for the city.”
The motivation was a great muse, one that Simmons and the Sixers hope to continue channeling along their post-season run.