After disappointing in Games 4 and 5 against the Toronto Raptors, all eyes were on Ben Simmons in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. With Joel Embiid less than 100% (not that he was on the injury report, but to anyone who watches this team with regularity, it’s obvious something isn’t quite right with Jo), Philly desperately needed Simmons to make an impact on the offensive end. Simmons answered the call, with 21 points on 9 of 13 shooting to go along with 8 rebounds (4 offensive) and 6 assists while avoiding turnovers entirely.
If there is one word to describe the play of Simmons, it is “aggressive”. Ben looked to get downhill on the Raptors’ defense, driving to the hoop whenever he saw an opening in the lane. Rather than reverting to the passiveness we saw in prior contests, Simmons spurred team offense as an initiator by finding multiple ways to make his presence felt.
On the Offensive Glass
Simmons was looking to get the Sixers 2nd chance points throughout the game, with a couple of exceptionally timed offensive boards. There’s something uplifting about the bail out produced from a put back. Two of Simmons’ offensive rebounds led to quick 2-pointers:
Ben’s ability to gobble up Sixer misses led to four 2nd chance points, and really should have led to nine. On two other occasions, Simmons rebounded the ball and found teammates in scoring locations, feeding James Ennis III on a baseline cut that Ennis fumbled and finding Tobias Harris spotting up for a corner three that rimmed out.
Simmons’ willingness to drive the hoop fluctuates between polar opposites. On some occasions, he’s like a runaway train, dead set on asserting his will and laying the ball in the cup. At other times, Simmons is timid to the point of forcing fans to question if his ineffectiveness from the line has him thinking twice about being assertive and physical at the rim. In Game 6, Simmons was the former, attacking the lane with speed and purpose time and time again. In the following clip, I’ve included misses, because it feels as though the very willingness to drive proves how influential Simmons can be and how much defenses need to compensate for an aggressive Ben. Just watch how many Raptors shift their effort to containing Simmons, the same guy Jared Dudley and the Nets were at times ready to completely ignore:
Going back through the game film, I found myself thinking, “Hmm... it really felt like Simmons was noticeably more inclined to get to the rim. Why am I not seeing more buckets at the rim?” The answer to that question is that in the case of drives, Ben was often firing passes off to teammates, who Ben himself forced open via the gravity of his drives.
Passing Out of Drives
Too often we watch Simmons get deep into the paint, only to come to a complete halt, pivot away from the rim and pass the ball back outside the perimeter to start over. There’s not necessarily anything wrong with Simmons thinking twice about attempting a contested layup, but slowing down so dramatically and looking to regroup disrupts the synergy of the offense and often leads to forced attempts as the shot clock expires. Last night though, we saw Simmons thinking the game two steps ahead of the Raptors’ defense (be sure to watch the first play a couple times over, a simple play setup leads to a wide open Tobias Harris 3PT):
In each of those plays, we see multiple defenders collapsing on Ben. Simmons still needs to improve his finishing around the bucket — it gets frustrating watching him get into the lane with ease only to have a relationship with layup attempts that is reminiscent of Lennie and soft-furred animals in Of Mice and Men. But even with a well-known lack of touch, Ben’s threat as a downhill scorer is obvious, as we see as many as three defenders slide toward Simmons as he drives. The result is wide open teammates, Simmons showing off his passing chops, and easy buckets.
While Simmons’ offensive impact was the story of the night, he was impressive on defense as well. According to NBA.com’s matchup data, Simmons guarded Kawhi Leonard on 21 possessions and Kawhi scored just 5 points on those possessions. What is even more impressive is that those are the only 5 points that Second Spectrum has Simmons allowing, and they’ve jotted his assignments down as having just 3 assists:
As was the case on offense, Simmons played with noticeably more intensity on defense than he had of late in this series. If Philadelphia can count on this sort of two-way showing out of Ben in Game 7, the Sixers can feel a lot more confident about their chances in final bout of the best-of-seven. It was exactly the response Simmons needed to show to his doubters and exactly the performance Philly needed to regain confidence.