Semifinal Series Shifts to Atlanta
“With their youth, and growth that we anticipate, I do think in the future - in the near future - Ben will be Defensive Player of the Year, and Joel will be MVP.”
-Doc Rivers, Thursday
Ben Simmons, who finished second in Defensive Player of the Year voting as announced by the NBA Wednesday night, had his defensive prowess on full display in the 76ers’ Game 2 victory over the Atlanta Hawks Tuesday.
Following the win, Rivers put it simply:
“I thought Ben played terrific defense - and he did it without fouling.”
Tasked with guarding Atlanta phenom Trae Young early and often, Simmons, with the help of Matisse Thybulle and others, held Young to shoot 6-for-16 from the field and just 1-for-7 from deep in Game 2, after Young had shot 11-for-23 overall in Game 1.
Young scored 21 points in Game 2, after scoring 35 in Game 1.
Shake Milton, who also played a starring role in the Sixers’ Game 2 win, explained Simmons’ essential role at Thursday’s practice.
“We rely on him,” said Milton, who scored 14 points in 14 minutes while shooting 5-for-8 from the field and 4-for-5 from deep. “He’s our go-to guy on [the defensive] end. We look to him to lock up the best player on the other team.”
Milton added that Simmons’ defensive impact permeates through the entire team.
“It gives everybody motivation. When he holds himself to a standard that high, it makes everybody rise to that level. What he brings to this team - you can’t even put it into words.”
Milton and Simmons have been teammates for three years. George Hill has only played alongside Simmons for three months, but he already sees what Milton sees.
“He’s a big key,” Hill said of Simmons’ defense. “We rely on him to be the Ben we know he can be night in and night out. I think he’s done a tremendous job - but we need him to do that three more times for this series.”
As the series shifts to Atlanta tied 1-1 for Friday's Game 3, the Sixers have a chance to take a series lead, and take back homecourt advantage.
Game 3 tips at 7:30 p.m. ET.
Young figures to continue to be Atlanta’s primary threat as the Eastern Conference Semifinal series continues. Young has averaged a team-high 28.9 points and a team-high 10.0 assists in the playoffs thus far.
Danilo Gallinari led the Hawks’ bench in Game 2, finishing with 21 points, nine rebounds, and two assists. Bogdan Bogdanovic added 14 points, seven rebounds, and two assists, while Clint Capela recorded 10 points and eight rebounds.
The Hawks shot 45.8% from the field (38-83 fg) and 36.7% from deep (11-30 3fg) in Game 2.
The Hawks announced Wednesday that De’Andre Hunter will miss the remainder of the postseason due to a torn lateral meniscus in his right knee.