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.