Last night, the Philadelphia 76ers notched their most impressive win of the season, drubbing the Indiana Pacers 120-96. Jimmy Butler starred with 27 points, eight assists, five rebounds and three steals. Joel Embiid bounced back from a sluggish, pain-filled first half to tally 22 points, 13 rebounds, eight assists, three blocks and one steal. JJ Redick rung up 20 points on 7-of-12 shooting and was 6 of 9 beyond the arc.
Beyond those three and a team-wide rejuvenated defensive effort, Indiana’s scheme against Ben Simmons in transition resonated with me. They rarely crashed the offensive glass when he was out there, sent all five guys back, shaded with help and pressured him early. It led to a somber scoring night for Simmons as three of his five buckets came well into garbage time during the fourth quarter.
All that being said, he still fostered a positive impact. He controlled the game as a facilitator — despite the six turnovers — attacked the glass well and helped contain Victor Oladipo to 6-of-20 shooting. But Thursday also provided an acute glimpse into the ways elite defenses can neutralize Simmons as a scorer and transition playmaker. Not only did they cut off his lanes to the rim, they limited his opportunities for quick duck-ins and seals in the post — one of his primary scoring outlets.
Per Synergy, he finished with five transition plays, scoring two points (1-of-2 shooting) — they came on a cut with two minutes left in the game — and coughing up three turnovers. On a number of other occasions, the Pacers curtailed his chances altogether.
Harping on his transition game following a 24-point win might be overkill. Yet it also speaks to the dangers of Simmons’ scoring impact being neutered by a simple defensive scheme, one Toronto, Milwaukee and Boston can all replicate. Redick and Mike Muscala filled the burden, combing for 31 points on 9-of-13 sniping from deep. Role players like those two have to step up for Philly to win these types of games. Can that happen on a regular basis in April and May?
The positives overwhelmingly outweigh the negatives from yesterday’s victory. Maybe the blueprint against top-tier opponents is letting Simmons dominate as a playmaker, nab a few buckets in the post and wreak havoc defensively while Butler, Embiid and Redick shoulder the scoring load. Nonetheless, the degree to which Indy focused on mitigating Simmons’ transition attack was stark. For an in-depth look at how it happened and what it could mean moving forward, check out my Twitter moment.