Jessica Camerato

Ben Simmons dominating NBA playoffs as a rookie

Ben Simmons dominating NBA playoffs as a rookie

July 20, 1996.

Watching Ben Simmons play in the postseason, it’s easy to forget the Sixers rookie point guard is only 21. 

Simmons has been handling the pressures of his first playoff run with a maturity beyond his years and a basketball savvy that’s putting his achievements among elite players that came before him in the NBA. 

The postseason stage did not prove to be too big for Simmons in the first round, and he’s just getting started. 

“On to the next series,” Simmons said after the Sixers eliminated the Heat in Game 5. “We've got to focus on that. For me, this is my first season playing so this is what I'm going to expect now.”

Simmons averaged 18.2 points, 10.6 rebounds, 9.0 assists, 2.4 steals and 4.0 turnovers in 37.4 minutes during the first round. He recorded a triple-double in Game 4, the first Sixer to do so since Charles Barkley on April 27, 1991. Simmons also became the youngest player with a playoff triple-double since LeBron James on May 13, 2006.

Simmons is tied with James, Anthony Davis, Russell Westbrook and LaMarcus Aldridge for the most double-doubles so far in the postseason. The last rookie to reach at least four double-doubles in his first five playoff games was Tim Duncan during the 1997-98 season.

“He didn’t have a bad game,” Dwyane Wade said after the Heat’s Game 5 loss. “You knew from the first time you saw him in summer league that he was special … I think the thing that was impressive about him all year is he just continued to get better and better and better. To the point where it’s like that guy in Cleveland — doesn’t have bad games. The imprint that [Simmons and James] put on the game is more than just scoring. [Simmons] does so much.”

Simmons’ poise and composure was tested by the Heat in the opening round. He was on the receiving end of tough plays during an extremely physical series. 

During the Sixers’ closeout game, Simmons was taken out at the legs by Josh Richardson and slammed into the ground with a bruise on his back to show for it. Later in the game, Goran Dragic was whistled for a technical after swiping Simmons in the head. Unnerved, Simmons took both incidents in stride.

“First play when I fell, he (Richardson) didn’t see me. It was just a hard fall,” Simmons said. “The second one, I think I just got under Dragic’s skin. But I’ve got nothing but respect for those guys. They play hard every night and they made us a better team.” 

Simmons has escalated his game all season through adversity and challenges, from stepping up in the absence of an injured Joel Embiid to being looked over for the All-Star team to shaking off criticism of his eligibility for Rookie of the Year. He remains unfazed amid it all, keeping a calm expression on his face that translates into a collected style of play. 

“It’s just the way I am,” Simmons said. “Nothing really bothers me on the floor. I might get frustrated but I never let it take over what I’m doing on the floor.”

Spoken like a player who's been to the postseason before; only he hasn't. 

Plenty of Philly celebrities take in Sixers' series-clinching victory

Plenty of Philly celebrities take in Sixers' series-clinching victory

Meek Mill and Kevin Hart sat together courtside (see story), but they weren’t the only Philadelphia notables taking in Game 5 of the Sixers-Heat series at the Wells Fargo Center. 

Take a look at others in the crowd as the Sixers bounced the Heat from the playoffs Tuesday (see game recap)

Eagles owner Jeff Lurie had fun with Hart and Meek Mill. 

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf was in the building.

Corey Clement was joined by fellow Eagles Jalen Mills, Alshon Jeffery, Brandon Brooks, Lane Johnson, Derek Barnett and Wendell Smallwood. New York Jets wide receiver and Temple product, Robby Anderson, was also in attendance. 

Former Sixers Jumaine Jones, Nik Stauskas, Marc Iavaroni, Billy Owens and Tim Perry watched the game. The NCAA champion Villanova Wildcats, with NBA-level talents of their own, were honored at half court. 

Boxers Bernard Hopkins, Bryant Jennings and Jessie Hart watched the Sixers throw a knockout punch.

Musical artists Biz Markie, Beanie Sigel, Chill Moody and Lil Dicky also were among the 21,171 sellout crowd. 

Sixers' drastic transformation continues with series win over Heat

Sixers' drastic transformation continues with series win over Heat

BOX SCORE

For years, the notion of winning four out of five games was a reach for the Sixers. Getting four wins could take weeks at a time, not just over one week. 

That was then, this is now. And how different now is. 

The Sixers eliminated the Heat with a 104-91 win in Game 5 Tuesday to advance to the Eastern Conference semifinals for the first time since 2012 (see observations). They had not won a best-of-seven series in five games or less since 1985. 

The team that started the season with a goal of making the playoffs and transformed into aspirations of 50 wins, home-court advantage and the third seed has proved to be a true contender in the East (see highlights)

Quite a dramatic turnaround from finishing 10-72 only two seasons ago. 

“I'm just thankful to be here because it goes back to three or four years ago when it all started for me here,” Joel Embiid said. “Two years ago, we won 10 games, so to be in this position, I'm just excited.”

The Sixers won 75 games in Brett Brown’s first four seasons as head coach. Reaching .500 would have been a significant accomplishment. The Sixers blew past that mark with 52 wins, including 16 straight to end the regular season. 

The organization envisioned this level of success years ago when it began thinking of its current “Phila Unite” playoff campaign. The Sixers had the pieces; it was a matter of everything coming together. From Ben Simmons’ standout rookie year after injury to Embiid’s dominant sophomore season to the compilation of a roster deep with veterans, this relatively newly-constructed squad clicked … quickly. 

“I was hired in 2013 and I sat with Josh Harris and David Blitzer and a few of the other owners, and we talked about the vision, what we hoped to build,” Brown reflected. “Through rough times, through adversity, we didn’t blink. We stayed strong in what we were trying to do. 

“We’ve got more to do. We’ve got more to give. We’re excited for sure and there was a sense of just gratitude and I’m proud of all of us for just staying together — owners, team, direction that we’re heading — we didn’t blink. We didn’t pivot out of what we said we were going to do and I think slowly we’re reaping the benefit of that.”

Instead of looking ahead to the NBA draft lottery in May as the key to the Sixers’ future, they are eyeing a deep playoff run during that time. The Sixers will find out their second-round opponent possibly as soon as Thursday night. They will face the winner of the series between the Celtics (No. 2) and Bucks (No. 7), which Boston leads, 3-2. 

The Sixers have high expectations for success. For as many years as they were a losing team, many of the current players were not part of it. They know winning, an unwavering standard they’ve set for themselves they will carry throughout the playoffs. 

“On to the next series,” Simmons said. “We've got to focus on that. But for me, this is my first season playing so this is what I'm going to expect now. Going into it, we've got to lock in and focus on that next team we play."