Simmons Leads and Pushes Sixers Without Embiid
Basketball may be Ben Simmons’ first love, but video games seem to be a clear second. So, it wasn’t surprising to hear that the All-Star and Seth Curry were playing Call of Duty: War Zone ahead of Game 5.
But who knew that prognosticating was one of Simmons’ many skills?
Simmons told Curry he needed 30 points Wednesday night. Curry did that. Simmons told Curry that he planned on recording a triple-double. He did that.
“We were playing before our little pregame nap,” Curry said postgame. “He told me, ‘I need 30 from you and I’m going to get a triple-double so we can close it out.’ And we were able to go out and get it done."
With Joel Embiid out with a small tear in the lateral meniscus of his right knee, Simmons led the Sixers to a 129-112 win at the Wells Fargo Center to close out their first-round series against the Wizards.
While Curry has had a career year with the Sixers – his 30 points Wednesday were a playoff career-high – the knock on the guard is that he isn’t always aggressive looking for his shot. That wasn’t the case Wednesday.
Without their primary source of offense, Simmons knew the Sixers needed more from Curry.
And they got it.
“Now I know who can coach Seth,” Doc Rivers joked. “Clearly Seth listens to Ben, so we’re going to use Ben as a translator for Seth from this point forward. If that’s all it took, we’re going to keep doing it.”
Simmons’ triple-double entailed 19 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds. While the two-man game of Curry and Tobias Harris generated much-needed offense, Simmons seemed to take the game over at times.
With Washington’s small roster, Simmons found mismatches everywhere in the series. Starting the game at the five in Game 5, Simmons found himself going up against big man Daniel Gafford, who gave the Wizards a spark in Game 4. Simmons attacked Gafford off the dribble, using his quickness and speed to his advantage.
Playing without Embiid is not new territory for Simmons – nor is playing against bigs.
“I really don’t mind,” Simmons said of playing the five. “Whatever my team needs me to do. Wherever they’re going to put me, they’re going to put me. But I’m going to make it work. I feel like my IQ on the court is so high I can make plays happen.”
Did he feel any added pressure to make plays happen with Embiid out?
“Not really pressure. That’s all just everybody just talking,” Simmons said. “For me, I just need to come in and do my job. I know I’ve got teammates with me who all got my back and I got theirs. It was a group effort tonight and everyone really stepped up.”
One stretch that stood out was the way Simmons closed the third quarter. He generated offense by attacking the rim. The Defensive Player of the Year finalist smothered Bradley Beal, the NBA’s second-leading scorer.
There was one play where Simmons was chasing Beal around screens and was able to deny a pass. As the ball rolled out of bounds, Simmons dived to try to save it. The attempt was unsuccessful, but the crowd erupted, appreciating Simmons’ effort.
Those are the kinds of plays and moments we’ve seen from Simmons all season long. He’s also accustomed to handling the toughest defensive assignments. He held Beal to 10 of 25 shooting from the field and 1 of 9 from three for the series.
“I don’t know if he’s going to get Defensive Player of the Year, but he should be Defensive Player of the Year,” Wizards head coach Brooks said. “Not too many guys can guard one through five. He can guard one through five. There are some guys that can guard one position and do it well, but there’s only a handful of guys that can do it like he does.”
There will be different and more difficult challenges along the way for Simmons, starting this Sunday when Trae Young and the Hawks come to town.
But it’s also another opportunity for the 24-year-old to show his growth as a leader and quiet the critics.
“I keep saying it, stick with him,” Doc Rivers said. “He’s a hell of a player, but he’s also human. Far more great games and less bad. That’s who he is.”