Ben Simmons had a gem of a performance in the Philadelphia 76ers‘ first playoff win in more than two years on Sunday. He may have scored just six points in his 38 minutes of play, but he also racked up 15 assists and 15 rebounds in the contest.
In doing so, he joined Wilt Chamberlain as the only Sixers players ever to log as many rebounds and assists in a playoff game.
After the game, Sixers coach Doc Rivers levied some big-time praise in Simmons’ direction. “I thought he was special tonight,” Rivers said. “He’s a treasure. He’s something you don’t see a lot in this league.”
As good as he was in Philly’s 125-118 Game 1 win over the Washington Wizards, though, Simmons was clearly hampered by an all-too-familiar issue during crunch time. It almost cost his squad dearly, too.
Against a better team, it likely would have.
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Simmons Free-Throw Woes Extended the Game
Simmons missed all six of his attempts from the free-throw line in the contest. And his last two misses were particularly rough.
With just 43.9 seconds remaining, Simmons had an opportunity to make it a three-possession game, effectively deciding Game 1 right then and there. Instead, he clanged both shots and helped keep the Wizards alive much longer than they should have been.
Shortly thereafter, Simmons’ inability to consistently knock down foul shots found the team relying on Joel Embiid to run the offense on a subsequent play. Consequently, the big man tried to do just a little too much with the ball and ended up dribbling it off of his foot and out of bounds.
Once again, the Wizards were given an opportunity to stay in a game that they should have never been afforded.
The fact that Rivers was forced to go with his 7-foot-2 center in that situation solely because his floor general couldn’t be depended on to make free throws is a problem. Philly got away with it against the Wizards, but the kinds of teams the Sixers will have to beat to achieve their championship goals could exploit the issue.
Big Ben’s Defense Was On-Point, Though
After TNT’s Kenny Smith and others served up the hot take that Simmons would struggle to guard Bradley Beal in the series, the Wizards star did his best to prove them right, scoring 33 points on 23 shots and adding six assists. However, Simmons clearly bothered Washington’s perimeter players throughout the night.
He also came up big during the game’s biggest moments.
In the wake of the aforementioned missed free throws and Embiid’s dribbling gaffe, the Wizards looked to free Beal on the perimeter in a situation where a three-point shot would have cut Philly’s lead to two. If the triple wasn’t there, he could also have sought to drive to the hoop, something he had done to great effect throughout the contest.
Simmons was having none of it. He stuck to Beal like glue and forced him instead to swing the ball to a far-less effective shooter in Russell Westbrook, who caught the side of the rim with his corner three attempt.
It was a DPOY-type play and arguably a major factor in the win. It’s also the kind of play that allows Sixers fans to stomach the free-throw issues or Simmons’ inability to provide scoring outside of the paint.
If the Sixers expect to make a real run, though, they’ll need more balance down the stretch from the three-time All-Star.
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