Following the Sixers’ 103-95 win over the Memphis Grizzlies on Sunday night (see observations), Ben Simmons sat back in his locker, left foot submerged in ice after his latest stellar performance — one that earned him the distinction of bell ringer for the second straight game.
A reporter asked Simmons if he'd just had his best shooting night of the season.
“What did I shoot?” Simmons wondered.
Eight for 10, he was told.
“The other day I was 5 for 5,” Simmons said, “so I’d say that was my best.”
The excellent games are starting to blend together for Simmons, who has shot 62.4 percent from the floor over the last seven games. He had 19 points, 12 rebounds and six assists on Sunday.
He put up those numbers despite spraining his left ankle in the first quarter. Simmons said his ankle was sore, but it didn’t sound like there was a chance he would have exited the game.
“It’s just a sprain,” Simmons said.
Simmons’ improved play has coincided with the arrival of Jimmy Butler, and that’s no coincidence. The team is 8-2 with Butler, and it's playing its best basketball of the season. The Sixers have held opponents under 100 points six times this season. Over the past week, they’ve held the New York Knicks, Washington Wizards and Grizzlies under 100.
“I think having him here is stepping everybody’s game up,” Simmons said of Butler, his “headband brother.” “Everybody has to be at that level. It’s great having his veteran leadership there, in practices and on the floor. Very positive player and wants to see everybody do well. I think that’s a huge part of Jimmy that most people don’t know. I think he’s a great teammate.”
Head coach Brett Brown has stressed how Butler has helped Simmons’ “defensive accountability.” He harped on that same theme Sunday night after Simmons’ latest exemplary defensive effort, which included a pivotal steal on Marshon Brooks late in the fourth quarter.
Simmons came up from behind Brooks and tipped the ball out, then raced after it and saved it from going out of bounds, leading to two free throws for Butler and a 95-89 Sixers lead.
“His defensive mindfulness, his commitment to playing defense for way more possessions a game than we’ve seen lately,” Brown said. “He’s moving in a really clear, positive direction. For me, I feel it — I see it as well, but I feel it.”
Offensively, Simmons came out with an attacking mindset, driving hard to the rim and looking to score in the post against the Grizzlies’ Kyle Anderson. Simmons helped the Sixers build an early lead with nine first-quarter points.
Simmons said he saw Anderson after Saturday’s Travis Scott concert at the Wells Fargo Center.
“I told Kyle Anderson — I saw him last night after the concert — I told him I was going to go at him,” Simmons said.
When Simmons is playing at this level, the Sixers don’t need all three stars to be their best. Joel Embiid shot just 4 for 13 from the floor on Sunday, but thanks to Simmons, the Sixers didn’t require Embiid to be his usual, special self.
“I’m telling you, when he’s playing like that, he’s a hell of a player on both ends of the floor,” Butler said. “When he’s being aggressive like that — not even on the offensive end but on the defensive end — he’s changing games for us.”
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