Ben Simmons and Magic Johnson. It’s not such a crazy comparison.
With 17 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists in the Sixers’ 106-102 Game 4 win Saturday, Simmons became the first rookie to record a playoff triple-double since Johnson in 1980.
It’s not the first time Simmons has been linked with Magic, nor will it be the last. At 6-10, Simmons’ elite passing ability, versatility and flair in the open court mirror the 6-9 Johnson. With 12 regular-season triple-doubles, Simmons passed Johnson for second on the all-time rookie list, behind only Oscar Robertson’s 26.
Oh, and without Joel Embiid in Game 2 of this series, the point guard Simmons jumped for the opening tip, just as Johnson famously did with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar out in Game 6 of the 1980 NBA Finals against the Sixers.
You can chalk up some of the early comparisons with Johnson to the natural tendency to see parallels when looking at graceful point guards in big bodies or just insane statistical coincidences, but there’s one important similarity it looks like Simmons might have with Magic — an affinity for big games.
Simmons guided the Sixers to a massive win Saturday, helping his team take a 3-1 series edge over the Heat despite a season-high 26 turnovers. Though Simmons posted seven turnovers himself, he directed the offense masterfully in the second half.
In the fourth quarter, the Sixers had just three turnovers and executed well in their half-court offense despite the extremely physical Heat defense. Simmons scored 15 of his points after halftime, including a powerful drive and dunk with 58.2 seconds left to give the Sixers a 102-99 lead after Dwyane Wade had cut the deficit to one.
As he typically does, Simmons deflected the attention away from himself after the game when asked about joining Johnson, Abdul-Jabbar, Jerry Lucas and Tom Gola on the list of rookies with playoff triple-doubles.
“I think it just means I’m doing my job,” Simmons told reporters. “The stats I’ve averaged all season have been up there, so it’s not really anything new for the team or myself. As long as we’re winning, I’m happy. All those accolades will come if we’re all doing the right thing.”
Joel Embiid, however, wasn’t shy in talking up his point guard’s accomplishment.
“He was a monster,” Embiid said. “I think that’s the first time the Sixers had a triple-double [in the playoffs] since Charles Barkley, so that’s big-time.”
Embiid knows his Sixers history. Barkley was indeed the last Sixer to record a postseason triple-double. He recorded 22 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists on April 27, 1991, in a 116-112 OT win in Milwaukee.
JJ Redick was also impressed with Simmons, though he’s getting used to these sort of historic games.
“Ben is Ben,” Redick said. “It’s almost become expected now that he’s gotta go average a triple-double. He’s very tough physically, but he’s even tougher mentally. The last four games have been as vocal and demonstrative as I’ve seen him all season. He’s been fantastic. He’s coming out of his shell in regards to leadership, and that’s huge for us.”
Simmons is averaging 19.3 points, 10.8 rebounds and 9.8 assists through the first four games of his playoff career. He’s not quite averaging a triple-double, but he’s about as close as you can get.
And for the record, Magic had five triple-doubles in that incredible 1980 postseason with the Lakers. With Simmons' immense talent and poise under pressure, that’s another Magic milestone within his reach.