CAMDEN, N.J. — After the worst performance of his rookie season, Ben Simmons insisted he’s not short on confidence. Friday, he talked with one of the more confident players to ever wear a Sixers uniform.
“I spoke to A.I. before I came in here today,” Simmons said after practice. “He just told me, play the game I know how to play. And that’s just second nature to me.”
Simmons said Allen Iverson wanted to talk with him after his dismal, one-point effort in Game 2 against the Celtics. The rookie has said he admired Iverson growing up and had a poster of the Sixers’ legend in his room, while Iverson has raved about Simmons and hasn’t been shy about sharing advice with his “little dudes.”
As Simmons sees it, the keys to bouncing back are pretty simple — it’s all about him playing his game and not overthinking, which he mentioned was a problem Thursday night (see story).
“I think just thinking too much about everything, every play on the floor,” Simmons said. “I think I’m looking at it with too much detail and not just playing.”
So, what caused Simmons to overthink in Game 2? Was it the Celtics’ defensive speed?
“No,” Simmons said.
Did Boston’s physicality bother him?
“No,” he said again, this time with a smile and a shake of the head.
According to Simmons, the Celtics are “just loading the paint, which means somebody’s gotta be open. So we need to move the ball quicker.”
Coach Brett Brown also said the Celtics aren’t doing anything exotic, just executing the standard strategy of sagging off Simmons at a high level.
“What they are doing is taking what the league did all year, but just doing it really well,” Brown said. “They’re a disciplined team. … They really have individual defensive pieces that are exceptional. We’re seeing a wall. Early in [LeBron James'] days, that was all he saw. You’re going to live with a pull-up, not a layup, and you’re going to see five jerseys and five sets of numbers. And I think that the Celtics are doing a really good job in that regard.”
One edge the Celtics have over most teams defensively when guarding Simmons is their ability to cross-match effectively in transition. Terry Rozier, Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Al Horford — whoever the Celtics throw on Simmons is capable of defending him and stymying any fast-break opportunities. The first two games of this series have been played at a 97.12 pace, well below both the Sixers’ 102.2 regular-season average and their 102.99 average during the first round against Miami.
“I think they’ve really been locked into me going to the boards and getting out early, so I think I just need to be a little quicker, kick the ball ahead maybe or be the first one down the floor and get somebody to throw the ball to me,” Simmons said. “However it is, we've just got to get it done tomorrow, and take it day by day.”