Ben Simmons was absolutely incredible in Philadelphia’s win-or-go-home Game 6 NBA playoff victory over Toronto on Thursday. It was as if Simmons heard the chatter about his faults, read the tweets, then channeled his inner Cam Newton GIF and went to work.
Simmons scored 21 points on 13 shots. He finished with six assists, but five came in the first quarter. Two of his eight rebounds were put-back dunks. His defense was spectacular. His speed in the open court was lightning-quick.
In a game where Jimmy Butler dominated, and Joel Embiid was a mind-boggling plus-42 in 34 minutes, the reigning Rookie of the Year made all the difference. He set the tone from the opening tip. He was every bit the franchise-altering talent the Sixers hoped when they selected him first-overall in 2016, then waited idly for a year while he recovered from a foot injury.
If this is the Ben Simmons the Sixers can count on every game, they should be just as much a favorite to win the title as any other East team. But consistency hasn’t been Simmons’ calling card in the playoffs.
In the Sixers’ first series against the Nets, he had one signature game: a 31-point outburst on 85 percent shooting in Brooklyn that silenced Jared Dudley and any detractors of his game. Thursday’s performance was his first cracking 20 points against Toronto in the second round. He has two games against the Raptors with point totals in the single digits, and another two with precisely 10 points.
In total, Simmons is averaging 17 points, 8.8 rebounds and 7.7 assists (update in morning when postseason stats are updated). That’s pretty good, especially for a second-year player, but Philly needs more. Standout performances like Game 3 against Brooklyn and Game 6 against Toronto are what will make the difference for for these Sixers in the playoffs. If Simmons can be this good all the time, it turns a 76ers team knocking on the door into an army bulldozing their way into the finals with an extension ram.
This kind of consistency will be important for a number of reasons. Chief among them: Joel Embiid, whose health is in flux more often than it’s not. Another reason: Simmons is the Sixers de facto point guard, even though his game could be equally effective as a small-ball center a la Draymond Green. Simmons can’t shoot the three, but by being aggressive, he collapses the defense, creating perimeter shots for everyone else on the floor. Now, everyone’s getting looks and getting touches.
As good as Simmons is, it’s easy to forget this is only his second season in the NBA. He made the jump immediately from an LSU team that didn’t even make the NCAA Tournament to a Philadelphia team competing for a championship.
The pressure of the city is on the self-proclaimed prince, and when he plays aggressive like he did in Game 6, the Sixers play freely. Can Ben Simmons be this aggressive, this decisive every game? The Sixers are best when the ball is moving. By playing this kind of ball, Simmons can ensure just that.