Before every game, Ben Simmons tweets out an emoji of an angry face with steam coming out of its nose.
In Monday’s 117-111 win over the Nets (see observations), Simmons was the personification of that.
Simmons played angry from start to finish in tying his career-high of 34 points while also notching his fourth triple-double of the season with 12 assists and 12 rebounds. He also had five steals, making him the first NBA player to record at least that stat line since steals were first tracked in 1973-74.
The scary thing: He was even better than the box score indicates.
“We learned that he was Conference Player of the Week during this game,” Brett Brown told reporters in Brooklyn. “I would have given him that just for his second half of this game.”
For as good as Simmons was in the first half, he was especially spectacular after halftime. That’s especially notable for all the recent scrutiny he’s faced.
For as well as Simmons has played in Joel Embiid’s absence (19.2 points, 8.7 rebounds, 7.2 assists per game), many pointed to Simmons’ inability to score late in games. He had just two points (1 of 4) in 37 fourth-quarter minutes over his last four games. To be fair, he also had 11 assists to just two turnovers.
If you didn’t notice him in the second half of this game, you weren’t watching very closely. He had 19 of his 34 points after halftime. He also snagged three of his steals while only turning the ball over once.
Along with rookie Matisse Thybulle, Simmons ignited the team’s defensive effort coming out of the locker room. The Sixers held the Nets to just 43 second-half points and forced 15 turnovers.
“I think Ben's energy, honestly, is just contagious,” Al Horford said. “I think that at the level that he was playing — that kind of All-NBA-type, taking over the game — I just think it really rubbed off on all of us and we just stepped our game up and played free and played hard.”
With Embiid out, Brown turned to little-used Kyle O’Quinn and the even less used Jonah Bolden to back up Horford in the first half. They were a combined minus-six with six fouls in 15 minutes.
We haven’t seen a ton of Simmons at the five this season, but desperate times may have caused the Sixers to “trip on something,” as Brown likes to say. They went to a lineup with Raul Neto at the one and found success using Simmons as a screener and roller.
Rookie Nicolas Claxton, who had a big first half for the Nets, wasn’t a physical match for Simmons. That won’t happen on most nights in the NBA, but when teams go small, the Sixers have quite an answer.
“It’s tough for any big to really guard me when I’m going at them,” Simmons said. “That’s not a knock on any bigs, I’m just pretty fast and can get to the rim.”
As we’ve seen many teams do this season, Brooklyn head coach Kenny Atkinson used a center, Jarrett Allen, on Simmons. Allen just sat in the paint and dared Simmons to shoot.
In the past when the strategy was deployed, Simmons wouldn’t attack it. That's changed of late. Instead of trying to beat that tactic by shooting, Simmons has eaten that space and taken on opposing bigs at the rim — with a ton of success.
We all know the strengths of Simmons and that one glaring weakness. It seems like Brown has maximized those strengths recently and Simmons has taken on a different mindset.
“Same s---, you know what I’m saying? That’s Ben Simmons,” Mike Scott said. “He’s an All-Star. He’s our leader. I thought it was as he should.”
While Simmons recorded easily the best stat line of his NBA career, this may have been his finest performance as a pro.
“He just peppered the stat sheet all over the place,” Brown said. “But what I see is his spirit, his body language, his facial expressions. They reeked of, ‘We’re going to win, and you guys hang on to me and I will carry you.’ And I felt like he did that in many, many ways.”
By the way, that emoji is known as “face with look of triumph.”
Yeah, that works.
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