BOSTON — There’s an ongoing debate about whether 76ers Point-forward Ben Simmons – who was drafted in 2016 by Philly but didn’t play due to injury – is truly a rookie. Well, for maybe the first time in his career Simmons looked and played like one. Possibly his worst game as a professional in a 108-103 loss to the Celtics in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
“I’m going to have bad games. It happens,” said Simmons.
How bad was Ben Simmons night? Well let’s just say he only had one more point that fellow rookie and number one overall pick Markelle Fultz. Fultz didn’t play a single minute. That’s how bad it was. One point bad. Five turnovers bad. On the bench for long stretches in the third and 4th quarter bad. Minus 23 bad.
Is it possible the Celtics had something to do with it?
“I think it was mainly what I did to myself,” Simmons said. “Mentally, I was thinking too much, overthinking the plays. Wasn’t just out there, flowing, playing the way that I play, which is free.”
Simmons also didn’t think Boston’s physicality had anything to do with his poor performance.
“No. I think first series, the way the Heat played is nothing compared to the Celtics. Physically, the Heat were on another level,” said Simmons. “But yeah, I think it was self-inflicted from myself, personally from my own game.”
Sixers head coach Brett Brown was willing to give the Celtics a little more credit than that.
“The way Boston is guarding us in general is something that I respect,” said Brown. “I have said, every time either pre- or post-game and when I see you at practice, I have said this before, they are elite guarding their own men. There’s a physicality and switch-ability that they got apples for apples on many, many different matchups. With Ben, they do a good job defending him. There’s an element of physicality that I feel that they have applied to all of us and tonight Ben struggled as we see. I do give Boston’s defense a lot of credit.”
On the flip side there was Jayson Tatum, who through two games has dominated the much ballyhooed battle of two of the NBA’s top rookies. Tatum led the Celtics with 21 points after dropping 28 in Game one. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say Tatum has been the best player on the floor for either team through two games. Asked about the – to this point in the series – one sided rookie matchup Tatum remained humble.
“I can’t speak for (Simmons), but with us it’s a team effort,” said Tatum. “We have different guys leading us in scoring each and every night so that’s what makes us such a unique group. We have different guys, even when somebody is hurt, that’s ready to pick up the slack.”
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