With his team down by 23 points halfway through their last game before the All-Star break, Brett Brown had a simple message for the Philadelphia 76ers. “We have enough firepower,” Brown explained to his team.
On this night there was no Joel Embiid. The Philadelphia crowd, one that has been in a crazed frenzy in a post Super Bowl world, was listless on a seemly despairing Valentine's Day evening. The NBA All-Star break – a beacon of relaxation for every NBA athlete - was just minutes away. The 76ers had every incentive to roll over and board their planes to anywhere but Wells Fargo Centre.
“There’s enough firepower in the room,” Brown reinforced to his team at halftime. “There’s enough time. There’s enough firepower.”
There were many good reasons for his confidence. After all, the 76ers took the floor tonight riding a 10 game winning streak at home. But there was one person who unquestionably made Brown think a comeback for the ages was possible. That is Ben Simmons, the 76ers' prized rookie.
What followed Brown’s moment of belief was a glimpse into the dynastic potential of these 76ers.
On the back of a dominant second half from Simmons, the 76ers stormed back to collect their most impressive victory. Not only for this season, but perhaps the four and half years Brown has been governing The Process in Philadelphia.
“It ranks high,” Brown explained, when asked if victory over the Miami Heat was the best of the season. “It could be number one. It feels like the best as I speak.”
Simmons finished with another colossal night: 18 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists and 4 steals in 36 minutes. Where do we start, with Simmons launching yet another assault on the history books?
A sixth triple double elevates Simmons into the pantheon of NBA rookies. Only Magic Johnson and Oscar Roberson have ever recorded more triple doubles as rookie. Simmons is only the third rookie in the Basketball Reference’s database to ever score 18 points and collect 4 steals in a triple double.
For his part, Simmons was equal parts gracious and reserved after the game. He credited the performance of his team, evidencing this victory as a sign of their growth. “We’ve come a long way since the start of the season,” Simmons said.
Playing without Embiid has been a challenge for the 76ers all season. Simmons also acknowledged the change in mindset required without Embiid.
“Knowing [Embiid] is out, I needed to be more aggressive,” Simmons said. “Try to get my teammates involved. Everyone played their role and we played well as a team tonight.”
This was another extraordinary night for the young Australian. Almost every soul in the arena noticed, well everyone besides Brown that is.
“I was only reminded of his triple double about three steps before I came out here. He just quietly assumes statistics. You feel his presence, but not to the level when I see the stat sheet and you say really? 18, 10 and 12. They are massive numbers.
“In a close game. In a game that we judge to be like a mini playoff audition. They’re hanging around us; we’re hanging around them. It’s an important game and for Ben to produce those numbers, in a very deliberate way, speaks in a crazy positive way about Ben Simmons.”
Brown’s comments speak to the respect Simmons already commands. They offer what can only be considered the most ultimate of compliments. This isn’t some random NBA rookie playing the game of his life. This is quickly becoming the norm for Simmons; such is the unwavering performance during his maiden rampage around the Association.
While those around the 76ers are quickly becoming accustomed to the dominance, a deep breath is useful as the NBA enters party season.
Simmons’ performance tonight vaults to the front of his Rookie of the Year candidacy. The challenges in accomplishing one last victory before the break were present, and they were extensive. And yet, Simmons elevated those around him en route to his most impressive victory as a professional. He wasn’t just the best player on the court tonight; he was the 76ers’ cerebral leader. He showed a level of assurance that belies his 53 games of NBA experience. That makes Brown very excited about what comes next.
“He has tremendous poise,” Brown explained of Simmons.
“He’s not fazed at all. He handles himself with a tremendous amount of poise and grace for being so young. And especially for being responsible for the most difficult position in the NBA at point guard.”
Simmons will head to Los Angeles to participate in the Rising Stars Challenge. He will lead an international roster up against an American side featuring his only true competition for Rookie of the Year in Donovan Mitchell.
While the exhibition showdown shouldn’t have much barring on award races, it does afford Simmons an opportunity to sway voters, even if any evidence would be anecdotal at best. The recent play of Mitchell, and the reactions within the basketball media – who it must be reminded are the people who vote on the award – indicate Simmons is no longer a lock for Rookie of the Year honours.
Once Simmons is finished with the Rising Stars Challenge, he will immediately escape the gluttony of All-Star Weekend. Rest and relaxation is on his mind, before he gears up for an assault on bigger team goala.
“Everyone has their little break. We recoup. We have time to be with our family and friends. But we know, when we come back, we have business to handle.”
Simmons and his 76ers teammates handled their business on Wednesday night. They enter their break riding a five-game winning streak.
A few days off await all involved, but this is just the beginning.