Ben Simmons Takes Over When Sixers Needed It
Ben Simmons’ Defensive Player of the Year campaign fell short.
On Friday, Simmons didn’t seem too concerned that Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert won the award for the third time.
“Congrats to Rudy,” Simmons said. “It is what it is. I’m not really concerned about individual awards. I want the championship. That’s my goal.”
With more performances like the one we saw from Simmons in the Sixers’ 127-111 Game 3 win in Atlanta, that goal seems feasible.
Simmons didn’t come out of the gates on fire. While the Sixers scored 61 points and held a five-point lead at the half, Simmons missed a couple opportunities around the rim. With the shot clock winding down on one possession, Simmons passed up a reverse finish he seemed more than capable of making.
After scoring just four points in the first half, Simmons took the game over in the third quarter.
“We just thought he passed up too many opportunities — in the fast break, at the post," Doc Rivers said postgame. “And so we told him we were going to come out and feature him on the post, and be aggressive. I always think when you start him out passing on the post, then he gets aggressive in the game. He was great for us. It’s exactly what we need. With his pace and power, it was great.”
Simmons scored 11 of his 18 points and dished out three of his seven assists in the period – with no turnovers. He continued to play strong defense, holding Trae Young to just two points on 1 of 4 in the third.
More than the numbers, Simmons was in pure attack mode. With Atlanta missing De’Andre Hunter, Simmons will continue to have mismatches in this series. John Collins isn’t a strong enough perimeter defender to contain him. Danilo Gallinari doesn’t have the lateral quickness. Any other player the Hawks can throw on him is too small.
“[The Hawks] have a versatile group defensively,” Tobias Harris said, “but there’s certain times where [Simmons] can use his speed and his power out there to really back his way in and get to get to the cup. I thought he did a great job with that in the third quarter of using that aggressiveness and getting into the paint, making the right plays, right kick-out plays, finishing as well. I thought he did a great job with that.”
Simmons being able to supplement the scoring of Joel Embiid (27 points) and Harris (22 points) was a huge boost Friday. After Embiid averaged 39.5 points through the first two games, the Hawks’ double teams became much more aggressive. There was also a lot more attention paid to Harris, who’s been excellent so far in the postseason.
Going forward, they may need more of that from Simmons.
“I saw the way they were guarding me,” Embiid said. “They just didn’t want me to touch the ball. As soon as the ball was in the air, they doubled me.
“But I just told [Simmons] he needs to be aggressive, and he needs to attack because there’s a lot of space, especially with the way they’re guarding me. I told him to be aggressive and to go out and just dominate.”
When the trio of Simmons, Embiid and Harris are playing at the level we saw, the Sixers are tough to beat.
“Joel and I have had that chemistry and have played together a while now,” Simmons said. “Working with Tobias, he’s made it easy. He’s continued to get better and better, and he’s been a great fit. … When all three of us are in sync, it’s very tough for the opposition.”
The free throws are still a concern for Simmons. He went 4 of 8, which is actually an improvement considering how poorly he’s shot through the playoffs. Perhaps there will be some shooting variance for the 60 percent career free-throw shooter after the 35 percent he’s shot through eight games.
There needs to be a level of acceptance and appreciation for Simmons, though the frustrations may arise. Asking Simmons to be LeBron James isn’t fair. Asking him to be more aggressive when Embiid and Harris are getting extra attention – and to make free throws – is.
If Simmons can strike that balance, his ultimate goal could be attainable.