Ben Simmons Has Been a Defensive Superstar in the Playoffs
It's easy to look at a stat sheet and judge a player based off of the offensive numbers that are presented. However, the statistics can only tell you so much. Basketball is a two-way game. Everybody has to play both offense and defense. Some players dominate on both sides of the ball. Others have one as a strength and one as a weakness. For Philadelphia 76ers' star guard Ben Simmons, he has proven to be good at both. Although at times he's been a bit quiet in the offensive department throughout the postseason, nobody can deny just how good Simmons is playing on the defensive side of the ball.
During the last series against the Brooklyn Nets, Simmons had to guard their best player in D'Angelo Russel. The Nets' star averaged about 19 points-per-game in just under 30 minutes. His field goal percentage took a substantial decrease by going from 41.9-percent in the regular season, to 34.5-percent in the playoffs. Those numbers took a hit courtesy of Ben Simmons' elite defense. The second round of the playoffs didn't get much easier for the Sixers. In fact, Simmons' assignment is a lot tougher this time around.
As we know, Toronto Raptors' guard Kawhi Leonard is easily one of the best players in the game. And when it comes to playing the 76ers, he's almost flawless. On Monday night, the Sixers beat Leonard for the first time since he's been in the NBA. Fortunately, it came off of a strong bounce-back game for the Sixers as they allowed Leonard to put up 45 points, shooting nearly 70-percent from the field in 38 minutes on the court in Game 1. Philly knew they were going to give up points to Leonard who averaged 26 points-per-game in the regular season, which ranked sixth in the entire NBA. But they didn't anticipate such a dominant showcase from Leonard during the first matchup.
Sixers' Head Coach Brett Brown looked at the numbers during the first outing this past Saturday and likely realized that not everybody can get a piece of Leonard. Again, they can allow the Raptors' star to get his points, but they are better off with making him a permanent assignment for one of their best defenders. Knowing how well Simmons played on Russel in the last series, and how well he defended Leonard when he was against him during Game 1, it only made sense to issue Simmons the toughest job on the court in Toronto, which is guarding Kawhi Leonard.
Game 2 came and went, as the Sixers evened the series up 1-1, winning in Toronto for the first time since 2012. Once again, Leonard was Toronto's best player on the court, but he definitely didn't turn in the same game as the previous one. He shot 54-percent from the field, racking up 35 points. According to The Athletic's Jackson Frank, Leonard has drained 17 of his 22 attempted shots when being guarded by Sixers not named Ben Simmons. When Simmons is on Leonard, he's only managed to drain 12 of 25 shots. He's 0-for-9 from long range and turned the ball over twice.
At this point in the series, Brett Brown has figured out that Simmons is more than capable of giving the Raptors' superstar a run for his money. Is Simmons dishing back the toughness on Leonard on the offensive side of the ball? Not exactly. During 44 minutes on the court this past Monday, Simmons only managed to put up six shots, where he scored six points. While the Sixers' guard has struggled to produce on the offensive side of the ball, his teammates around him picked up the slack. It would be ideal for Simmons to play better both ways, but his tall task of guarding Leonard so far has been satisfying enough to help the Sixers out and snag them a win on the road.
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