BROOKLYN, N.Y. – There was a moment during Philadelphia’s Game 3 victory over the Brooklyn Nets where Ben Simmons stood still and held court over the Barclays Center.
In the dying moment of the third quarter, Simmons stood tall, raised his arms towards the skies and started nodding his head back and forth. A strut followed, and in this singular moment, all of the exquisite talents Simmons possess were transformed into a jovial swag. Simmons was walking all up and down the Nets home court and doing what he pleased. He did that for most of the night, actually, but this specific moment signified a more holistic meaning.
What elicited the response form Simmons is a level of madness that can only take place in the NBA postseason. Jared Dudley’s air ball was the precursor to Simmons’ display of confidence and summed up a very loud and excitable night in Brooklyn.
Dudley made headlines when he told the media on Wednesday that Simmons was an “average” offensive player. Simmons barked back at Dudley during the Sixers shootaround on Thursday morning and with that, the tone was set for what was a racious Game 3. In response, Simmons played the best playoff game of his young NBA career.
Simmons, who finished with 31 points, nine assists and three blocked shots in 38 minutes, is just the fourth player since 2000 with a playoff game of at least 30 points, nine assists and three blocks, joining LeBron James (twice), Kobe Bryant and John Wall.
As is seemingly always the case with a dominant Simmons performance, historical comparisons can be made to further amplify the Australian's impact. There was no time to dwell on singular accomplishments, given the stakes of Game 3. With Joel Embiid unable to play due to left knee tendinitis, Philadelphia needed their second All-Star to step up and lead the way.
“I thought it was one of Ben’s most dominant games,” Brett Brown said of Simmons’ performance.
“Whether you look at his confidence, his body language, his waling to the free throw line or with his organic play, I give Ben a tremendous amount of credit. We needed it all tonight. Especially without Joel.”
Simmons has transformed into the most aggressive version of himself following a self-diagnosed disappointing performance in Game 1. He pushed the basketball down Brooklyn’s throat tonight, just as he did three nights earlier in Game 2, and scored through every opponent sent his way. Eight points in the game’s opening four minutes set the tone and it was just the beginning of a historic night. Simmons finished 11 of 13 from the field and is the first player in five years to score 30 points in a playoff game while missing two or fewer shots from the field.
“I am just going to give credit where it’s due, Ben Simmons was 11 for 13,” said Nets center Jarrett Allen. “Tobias Harris was 60 percent and they just had a good night tonight.”
Simmons’ pugnacious spirit may have set the tone but he wasn’t the only Sixer to show out in Game 3. Tobias Harris scored a playoff career high 29 points and J.J. Redick added 26 of his own. Importantly, Harris and Redick combined to shoot 11-14 form three-point range. The pairing were the only Sixers players to make a three and they singlehandedly outshot Brooklyn from deep, as the Nets could only mange a 8-39 shooting performance. “We were fighting for one another and embracing the challenge,” Harris said postgame.
Winning the three-point line is a welcome development for the Sixers. Brooklyn dominated from behind the arc during the first two games of this series, converting on 14 more threes than Philadelphia. Without Embiid, Simmons was given the chance to push the pace during Game 3 and it provided opportunities for the Sixers to show off their team chemistry.
“Ben and I have an amazing thing,” Redick said. “It’s very organic. We don’t really call plays. We just get into stuff and talk about it in the huddle if we see something that a team is doing and we feel like we could exploit it. There were three or four plays tonight where we did that.”
The melodrama that was Embiid’s ongoing health status took a surprising turn 20 minutes before tip-off when he was ruled out. After playing in the first two games of this series, Embiid sat out Game 3 and it’s unclear whether he will be available when the series resumes on Saturday afternoon. Embiid played in just 10 of 24 games following the NBA All-Star break and the only benefit to his ongoing absence is that the Sixers have grown accustomed to playing without him.
Speaking after Game 3, Simmons spoke of the team’s confidence to win games, regardless of who starts at center.
“We have the pieces to complete games,” Simmons said of playing without Embiid. “I think everybody in our organisation knows that. It’s about everybody stepping up and following the plan. The scouting report or whatever it is and just locking in and buying in.”
Philadelphia needs Embiid if they are to reach the Eastern Conference Finals, a level that has been set as the past mark for this postseason by Elton Brand, the team’s general manager. But his services weren’t required tonight.
Simmons carried the Sixers to a pivotal playoff victory on Thursday night. In the process, he offered another loud statement for those doubting his standing in the NBA. Could Dudley’s comments have been the impetus, perhaps? Or maybe, this is just an NBA All-Star finding comfort under the bring lights of postseason basketball. Either way, Simmons is ready to move on from social media banter and talk of the average.
He has games to win.
“I try not to pay too much attention to what is going on with social media and what people are saying because people are going to say what they are going to say,” Simmons said postgame. “I can’t let that affect me on the floor, so I just try do my job when I step on the floor and play the point guard position as best I can.”