BOSTON — For the first time in a while, Ben Simmons looked like a rookie.
The usually cool-under-pressure point guard scored one point Thursday in the Sixers’ 108-103 Game 2 loss to the Celtics (see observations). Simmons believes his performance had more to do with his own mindset than the Celtics’ strategy.
“I think it was mainly what I did to myself,” Simmons said. “I think mentally, I was thinking too much, overthinking the plays and wasn’t just out there flowing and playing the way that I play, which is free.”
Simmons failed to make a field goal for the first time in his short NBA career. He shot 0 for 4 and netted his single point at the line. Simmons added five rebounds and seven assists, but ran into turnover trouble again with five (12 in the series) (see highlights). Brett Brown went with T.J. McConnell for the first half of the fourth quarter.
It was an uncharacteristic performance for the 21-year-old, who has risen to the occasion on the big stage. Simmons rarely is fazed by the moment, averaging close to 20, 10, 10 in the first round and posting one of his 12 regular-season triple-doubles last month against LeBron James.
"I think it was self-inflicted from myself," Simmons said.
Single games are different than series. The Celtics have hours upon hours to map out new ways to limit the Rookie of the Year candidate. They spent the previous two days diving into how they could slow Simmons down, deciding to roll out different defenders, including Al Horford, Marcus Morris and Marcus Smart. The Celtics also looked to lock down on his teammates to take away his open passes and force him to score. They will have until Saturday at 5 p.m. to anticipate the adjustments Simmons will make.
“He’s a heck of a player and obviously he didn’t play as well tonight, but good players always respond,” Brad Stevens said. “We’re going to have to be even better in Game 3, but trying our best to keep him in front and — he’s really hard to guard with a smaller player because he’s so big and strong and shifty. We’re fortunate to have a bunch of bodies to be able to kind of rotate guys.”
The Sixers advanced from one hard-nosed opponent to another. They were battle-tested by the Heat and face a group of feisty defenders on the Celtics.
Simmons said he was not impacted by Morris because the Heat played “on another level” of physicality in the first round. Brown, though, saw the Celtics cause problems with their toughness.
“With Ben, I give him credit,” Brown said. “They do a good job defending him. There’s an element of physicality that I feel that they have applied to all of us and tonight Ben struggled, as we see. I do give Boston’s defense a lot of credit and respect.”
Simmons is a matter-of-fact kind of player. He spoke candidly about his struggles and is ready to move on, leaving his overthinking behind in Boston.
"That’s the thing, I’m going to have bad games," Simmons said. "It happens. Obviously, it’s not the perfect timing, but we’re heading home now. We have two home games that we need to take care of and handle business. We have the team to do it and the coaching staff. Just got to go do it.”