76ers

On eve of Sixers summer league debut, Ben Simmons eager to prove worthy of No. 1 pick

On eve of Sixers summer league debut, Ben Simmons eager to prove worthy of No. 1 pick

SALT LAKE CITY -- When it comes to measuring his potential as a pro basketball player in the NBA, Ben Simmons isn't thinking like other rookies. Simmons is already looking at the top players in the league and seeing what he needs to do to bring his game up to their levels.

How he compares with other rookies doesn't matter to the former LSU star. Faring well against the likes of LeBron James and Kevin Durrant is a greater driving force in his development.

“Those are the guys I have to be facing, so I have to get ready for them,” Simmons said. “I respect everybody. I don't fear anyone. So when we go into every game, I'm willing to put in the work to win.”

Simmons will get his first chance to show what he can do for the Sixers when they meet the Boston Celtics in the Utah Jazz summer league opener on Monday. The Sixers will also play the San Antonio Spurs and the Jazz this week before facing the Los Angeles Lakers, Chicago Bulls and Golden State Warriors next week in the Las Vegas summer league.

He and fellow first round draft pick Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot practiced with the summer league team for the first time on Sunday, a day after they signed their rookie contracts.

The native Australian showed a little rust on day one, but it didn't diminish the thrill Simmons felt finally lacing up his shoes and getting out on the court again.

“It feels so good to be a part of a team,” Simmons said. “Just being on the court. It's the first time I've played since my final game at LSU.”

The spotlight will be fixed on the Sixers' top pick throughout his time in the Salt Lake City and Las Vegas – on and off the court. Being the No. 1 overall pick creates a natural target. Simmons knows other rookies want nothing more than to prove themselves at his expense.

Not only is he anticipating getting everyone's best shot, he's welcoming it.

“I know a lot of people will be coming for me because I got that No. 1 spot,” Simmons said. “It's always been like that for me since high school. Everyone has always wanted to go at me and have that shot. It's fun. I love getting the challenge.”

Simmons made a good first impression with the Sixers' coaching staff on his first day of practice. His size, his athletic play and his passing ability drew praise from head coach Brett Brown. In his limited time seeing Simmons so far, Brown already likes how Simmons is fitting into the team culture with his unselfish play.

Brown saw this kind of potential from Simmons during his lone season at LSU. In 33 games with the Tigers, Simmons averaged 19.2 points, 11.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists in 34.9 minutes per contest.

"He just finds awesome joy and enthusiasm in sharing the basketball and that becomes contagious," Brown said.

Simmons is the latest talent to come out of a burgeoning Australian basketball pipeline. He is the second top five pick from the country in the last three seasons after the Jazz selected Dante Exum fifth overall in 2014. Exum is a close friend and former teammate of Simmons. He described the Jazz point guard as being like a brother to him.

Simmons sees both he and Exum making it to the NBA as a positive sign for the sport's growth in his home country. Their success, he believes, will only make it easier for other Australians to pursue their NBA dreams.

“There's a lot of talent back there,” Simmons said. “A lot of Australian players coming into the NBA helps kids back home get recruited. It's a lot easier for them to adjust this system and get a lot more looks from colleges.”

Sixers let game slip away in second half against Celtics

Sixers let game slip away in second half against Celtics

BOX SCORE

The box score shows an imbalanced fourth quarter when the Sixers were outscored 33-20 by the Celtics. 

The play-by-play breakdown demonstrates the Celtics breaking an 84-84 tie with seven minutes remaining to end the game on an 18-8 run. 

The stat line tells the story of the Sixers giving up seven points to Kyrie Irving in less than four minutes to close out the game. 

That’s how the Celtics took over the Sixers home opener. The Sixers felt the game slip away earlier than that. 

“We struggled in the third to continue what we had going,” Jerryd Bayless said. “We didn’t hold everything together like we should have.”

The Sixers led the Celtics 50-46 at halftime. JJ Redick had matched Irving’s 12 points and the Sixers had only given up four points off turnovers, a needed improvement from their first game. 

They jumped ahead by nine, 65-56, with 4:35 to play in the third. That’s when they noticed the change. The Sixers went scoreless for a two-minute stretch. The Celtics failed to hit a field goal during that stretch (0 for 4), but they scored six points off free throws. The Sixers didn’t take advantage of the Celtics' shooting skid; instead, they hit one, too (0 for 3 from the field, three turnovers). 

“That was our chance to build that lead,” Redick said. “We were getting stops and we couldn’t get anything going offensively. It seemed like we were stuck at 65 for what seemed like forever. It was a seven-point game and we were getting stops and we never could push it past that, and it ended up being a three-point game to start the fourth. That was for sure when the momentum started shifting.”

The Sixers shot 39.1 percent from the field in the fourth while the Celtics were an efficient 64.7 percent. The Sixers fell flat from long range (1 for 6) and took just two free throws. The Celtics, meanwhile, scored 12 points from three (4 for 8) and went 7 for 7 at the line. In addition to Irving's offensive burst, Al Horford and Shane Larkin combined for 17 points in the quarter. 

“My mind goes to stops and not fouling,” Brett Brown said. “I think we fouled too much.” 

This loss emphasizes the importance of holding onto a lead when it’s in the Sixers' grasp instead of having to play catch up. Not when their roster is newly constructed and they are looking to young players down the stretch. Not when they are facing a a player like Irving who can take over at will, especially when he sees a window of opportunity. 

“Come on, that’s winning time,” Irving said of the fourth. 

Celtics 102, Sixers 92: Studs, duds, turning point and more

Celtics 102, Sixers 92: Studs, duds, turning point and more

BOX SCORE

The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame won’t be putting in a call for the film of this one.

The Sixers’ home opener Friday night at the Wells Fargo Center was sloppy and foul-filled. At times, it was downright ugly.

Basically, it was Sixers-Celtics.

In the end, the Sixers didn’t have enough down the stretch of a 102-92 loss (see observations).

There was plenty to take away from the defeat as the team heads into the second half of its first back-to-back of the season.

Turning point
The Sixers took a three-point advantage into the fourth quarter. And while their offense went cold, their defense completely collapsed.

The Sixers gave up 33 points in the final frame, a high for both teams in any quarter during the game.

Key stat
Bickering with the refs didn't help the Sixers' cause on the stat sheet.

They committed 31 personal fouls compared to 24 by the Celtics. That also helped fuel the free throw disparity. The Sixers made 12 of 16 FTs, while the C's connected on 22 of 32 from the charity stripe.

Offensive stud
It’s amazing what having real shooters can do for a team. Redick and Jerryd Bayless proved that again Friday night.

The pair of veteran guards helped keep the Sixers afloat when things weren’t looking great for the squad early and kept on contributing to the final buzzer.

Overall, Redick and Bayless combined for 37 points and eight three-pointers.

Offensive dud
Joel Embiid won’t find his name here often, but the big fella was far from his usual self against the Celtics. 

Embiid shot just 4 for 16 (0 for 6 from three-point range) for 11 points. He added 14 boards to secure a double-double, but it didn't help on the scoreboard.

For a guy lobbying hard to play in back-to-back sets, he sure looked tired.

Defensive stud
You can make an argument Irving is the best offensive point guard in the entire NBA. That’s why what T.J. McConnell did was so impressive.

When matched up with Irving, McConnell got right into the All-Star’s chest and didn’t back down. He’s a big reason Irving shot 7 for 17 and committed five turnovers.

Defensive dud
Not that it’s his fault, but Dario Saric struggled severely when matched up against opposing centers Al Horford and Aron Baynes. 

Brett Brown wants to run Saric at the five at times with the second unit, but it hasn’t yielded much success so far through two games. (Jahlil Okafor, anyone?)

Injuries
The Sixers made it through a second consecutive game without any injuries. Keep those fingers crossed.

Courtside celebs
Sixer staples rapper Meek Mill and filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan were both in attendance. The latter was seated next to legendary actor Samuel L. Jackson.

Up next
The Sixers don’t have any time to dwell on this one as they head straight for a matchup with another 2016-17 playoff team in the Toronto Raptors Saturday night (7:30 p.m./NBC Sports Philadelphia).