PHILADELPHIA - Ben Simmons started Monday’s contest against the Detroit Pistons in one of those moods. His disposition was clear to see.
Simmons instantly took Luke Kennard and Bruce Brown --Detroit’s starting wing players on this night-- into the post. There, he bullied them. Simmons then crossed up and shackled Jon Leuer on the perimeter, turning the Pistons' starting four man into a stumbling mess.
The Australian jumped all over the Pistons’ mish-mash starting lineup with an active temperament that created his highest scoring first quarter of the season. By the time Simmons checked out for his early rest, he had collected 11 points on a perfect five-for-five shooting, and set the tone for Philadelphia’s 14th home victory this season.
Brett Brown noticed Simmons’ mood. A euphoric home crowd could certainly see the temper. So what was the reason for Simmons’ assertive touch? Well, the answer is simple.
“I just don’t think they were ready for me,” Simmons said of the Pistons postgame.
It’s hard to argue against Simmons’ sentiment, given his barnstorming performance. Although if there is one team in the NBA who should know what Simmons is capable of, Detroit certainly fits the profile.
This was, remarkably, the fourth and final time Philadelphia will face the Pistons this season. In a scheduling quirk, these teams have played what amounts to a playoff series before Christmas. The sides faced off three days earlier, when Simmons and Jimmy Butler dominated enroute to a Sixers victory Brown called the best of their season. Detroit had repeatedly witnessed Simmons in full flight, but still lacked the focus to slow him down.
Simmons performed like a man who was certainly paying attention to his opponent. After finishing with 18 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists, Simmons added to his bluster by stating, in his mind, the Pistons aren’t physically equipped to slow him down. They never were. This was laid bare for the world to see tonight, but it’s a sentiment Simmons has long believed.
“In every game we have played them. Every game I have been in front of the Pistons. I felt like there are certain match-ups I can take over against them.”
It almost felt like Simmons was trolling the team he had defeated twice in four days, and yet, there is more than just a kernel of truth in his post-mortem. Simmons was 7-8 on shots within five feet of the basket against Detroit, per NBA.com. A 67% shooter on such attempts for the entire season, Simmons has converted at an incredulous rate of 87% (34 of 39) over his past six games.
His touch around the basket has returned after a difficult beginning to his sophomore NBA season. It has coincided with an aggressive aura that explodes from Simmons on the court of late. While impossible to measure, his head coach can identify the sharpened focus of his point guard.
“It was clear that he came out with the intent of trying to force, in a good way, a lot of the issues,” Brown explained postgame.
“He was adamant, you could see it in those early possessions. That is a disposition more than a move. That was a mentality. I thought his second step. That, “I am going to get to the rim,” type of mentality, served him well at the beginning of the game.”
Simmons’ mentality served both him and the Sixers franchise on this night.
Butler left the game with a groin strain in the first quarter and didn’t return. Detroit lingered over the middle quarters, thanks in large part to a career high 28 points from Kennard. It didn’t matter. Detroit could only get as close as five points in the fourth quarter, before Simmons revived his aggressive touch and kick-started an 18-8 spurt that signalled the dawn of garbage time.
“Simmons is a great player and he knows the game so well,” Kennard said postgame. “He is a tough guy to stop, he really is a strong guy.
“He knows how to play the game the right way and he knows how to make other people better. It's hard to take a guy like that out of the game.”
Through 27 games this season, Simmons’ season totals now stand at 416 points, 245 rebounds and 213 assists.
He is the only player in league this season with 400-plus points, 200-plus rebounds and 200-plus assists, and is the only Sixer in franchise history to reach these totals within a player's first 27 games of a season. He has accomplished this in each of his first two professional seasons
Next up for the Sixers is a date with the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday night. The Sixers and Nets have split their two meetings this season, both in Brooklyn.
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