ESPN Sources: The Nets and Ben Simmons expected he would be ready to play on Monday, but after getting on the court yesterday Simmons says he awoke with back soreness today. In the end, the team and Simmons agreed he'll remain out for Game 4.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) April 24, 2022
Ben Simmons has officially been ruled out ahead of Game 4 in the Boston Celtics-Brooklyn Nets round one series. The Celtics seized a 3-0 series lead by outclassing the Nets in the first game at The Barclays Center. That was after taking care of business at TD Garden during Game 1 and Game 2.
There had recently been some optimism that Simmons, battling a severe back flare up since late Feb. would make his Brooklyn debut in Game 4. But according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Simmons reported feeling soreness the morning after Saturday’s practice.
“After approximately 10 days of pain-free ramp up following recovery from a herniated disc, Simmons’ admission at the team practice facility was met with surprise and disappointment. On the brink of a sweep to the Celtics, the Nets had hoped Simmons would be in uniform and active with the hope of coach Steve Nash using him in limited minutes, sources said.”
ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, The Athletic’s Shams Charania, and Woj had all reported recently that Simmons was actually angling for a Game 4 return. But head coach Steve Nash and Simmons himself reminded reporters Friday that it would depend on how the three time All-Star progressed through team performance protocols over the weekend.
The idea that the Nets are now “surprised” Ben won’t be available doesn’t make a ton of sense. How confident could they have reasonably been that a dude who was in so much discomfort for two months he wasn’t even flying with the team for road games, and needed an epidural, could be ready to check Jaylen Brown six days after getting cleared for contact? Steve Nash and Kevin Durant never once seemed like they expected Simmons back. But maybe GM Sean Marks did, who knows?
Simmons dealt with nerve impingement in his back dating back to Feb. 2020 when he was still a Sixer. That issue appeared to resolve completely during the 2020-2021 season. But when he reported to camp at the start of this current season he reported feeling tightness. Of course Sixers fans didn’t buy that. They felt it was some excuse to push the trade he was rumored at the time to strongly desire. But maybe there was some foreshadowing.
Would the Nets and Simmons have been willing to push through some more discomfort if they weren’t in a 3-0 series hole? That seems possible. On the other hand, Simmons was only just cleared for contact at the beginning of last week and hadn’t had a chance to clear all of the team’s typical milestones for players returning from injury. So maybe the 3-0 deficit had little to do with the decision and there simply wasn’t enough time to do a proper ramp up given the severity of the issue and how long he’s been away from the sport.
If the Nets can win the next ball game, I suppose we’ll hear more of this saga one way or the other. For Sixer fans it was the mental health and wanting trade stalemate, for Nets fans it’s now the mysterious back issue and what might have been if they’d never traded away James Harden. It’s not hard to imagine they would have had a different first round matchup if they never struck a deal with Daryl Morey. It’s likely they would have fared a lot better on the whole with a playmaker as dynamic as The Beard. Lacking a true point guard, the Nets have coughed up a ton of unforced turnovers that the Celts have feasted on through three ballgames.
Watching a banged up Seth Curry (who simply wasn’t healthy over the final third of the season nursing an ankle) gut through the series, seeing Andre Drummond look like a very poor fit for the versatile, well-spaced Celtics, seeing Simmons yet to take the floor, it has to leave Sixers fans feeling pretty good about the whole Harden trade.
The idea of the Nets bringing back Simmons for his first NBA action since June 20, 2021 and tasking him with slowing down Jayson Tatum, and perhaps asking him to drain clutch free throws to stave off elimination, would have made for must-see television. But that will have to wait for later in this series or more likely, next year.