Simmons’ Wasn’t Better in Game 2 Than Game 1, Just Different
Ben Simmons’ status as arguably the most polarizing athlete in Philadelphia sports history is growing.
After scoring six points in Game 1 Sunday, Simmons doubled that total in the first quarter of a 120-95 win in Game 2 Wednesday at the Wells Fargo Center. The three-time All-Star finished with 22 points, nine rebounds, eight assists, two steals, and a block in just over 28 minutes of work.
It’s worth noting that Simmons had 15 assists in Game 1, generating 48 points – more than he generated in Game 2. Yet, certain sectors of the fan base will look at Wednesday’s performance as vastly superior.
But was it better or simply different?
“They were giving us space,” Doc Rivers said postgame. “That’s one of those things that when they give us space, Ben is going to drive and kick off. He’ll create points by passing. When they do give space, then Ben drives to score. Tonight, they kind of changed what they were doing on Joel [Embiid] which gave Ben more room. They were also sprinting out to our shooters which gave Ben more room, and he was great – he took advantage of it.”
There’s no mistaking how special Simmons was Wednesday. It was the 20th 22-point, nine-rebound, eight-assist performance in postseason franchise history. Simmons also did it vs. Miami in 2018. If the game wasn’t a blowout, he was well on his way to a triple-double.
But in Game 1, the numbers were actually even more unique. Simmons was just the second Sixer to put up 15 rebounds and 15 assists in a playoff game, joining some guy named Wilt Chamberlain. The 15 assists are only bested by Allen Iverson and Maurice Cheeks (16), two players with their numbers in the rafters.
In a playoff series, each game can look completely different – so can an individual player’s performance.
“Obviously every game there’s adjustments,” Joel Embiid, who finished with 22 points, said. “The first game, [Simmons] took what the defense gave him. He made plays, he got guys open, he had 15 assists. Tonight, he saw that they didn’t want to leave me alone and he had a lot of space with a 1-on-1 matchup, and he took advantage of it.”
In Game 1, Embiid and Tobias Harris basically scored at will. Harris had a playoff career-high 37 points while Embiid poured in 30 despite early foul trouble. Throughout the entire season, Embiid and Harris have been the team’s primary scoring options. Sunday’s win simply followed that pattern.
After a loss -- and the performance of that duo – you had to expect Washington head coach Scott Brooks to make adjustments for Game 2. He did just that, double-teaming Embiid more aggressively and making a more concerted effort to block off Harris’ straight-line drives.
The Sixers adjusted in kind, with Simmons taking advantage of the matchups that the extra attention on Embiid and Harris produced.
“He was just aggressive,” Embiid said. “I just told him, ‘You got all the space and all the time in the world. Just attack. Just be aggressive.’ It’s 1-on-1. He’s physical, he’s athletic and he can make plays. He was great tonight and we’re going to need him to keep being that way.”
We’ve certainly come a long way from the “they don’t like each other” and “they can’t play together” days. While much of that is narrative-driven, the pair of All-Stars have grown their relationship.
They talk more than they ever have, and the results have been positive.
“That’s trust,” Simmons said. “I trust him, he trusts me. It’s one of those things, I knew I had six points in the first game and I had 15 assists, so they expected me to find my guys and get my guys shots. They were falling asleep a lot of times when I was coming down the floor and I had to capitalize on that. That’s what I did tonight.”
Simmons was the No. 1 overall pick in 2016 and was viewed as part of the fruits of Sam Hinkie’s Process. When he was at LSU, he was compared to players like LeBron James and Magic Johnson because of his size and skill. It’s a pretty high bar when your player comps are two of the greatest basketball players to ever exist.
Simmons is not those players and he's certainly not above reproach. The 0 for 6 from the foul line In Game 1 is troubling, but it shouldn't take away from what he has done over the course of two playoff games.
There simply needs to be an acceptance of what Simmons is and the ways in which he’s great. The fact that he can score six points and still dominate in a playoff game speaks to the things Simmons can do beyond scoring. Players like Dennis Rodman, Ben Wallace and Draymond Green played elite roles on championship teams without being go-to scorers.
Why not Simmons?
“I’m not trying to stick it to anybody in Philly,” Simmons said. “It’s pretty hard to get 15 assists and 15 rebounds in the NBA in the playoffs. I thought it was pretty impressive. And we won. I mean what y’all want? Do you want to win? For me, I’m here to win and I’m doing whatever I can do to help my team win. … I’m not trying to prove anybody wrong or anything like that. I’m trying to do my job and win.
“I want a championship.”