76ers

Smirking Ben Simmons knows he's in a different class than Jared Dudley and is happy to show it in Sixers' Game 3 win over Nets

Smirking Ben Simmons knows he's in a different class than Jared Dudley and is happy to show it in Sixers' Game 3 win over Nets

NEW YORK — The crowd at Barclays Center on Thursday night gave Jared Dudley warm cheers when he first checked into Game 3 of the Sixers’ first-round series against the Nets, aware of the unpleasantries recently exchanged between Dudley and Ben Simmons.

By the time Dudley took his first shot of the night — an air ball with 1:48 left in the third quarter and the Sixers leading by 15 — there was a meek scattering of boos as Simmons raised his arms and stared at the veteran. Dudley finished scoreless in his 16 minutes, while Simmons had 31 points on 11 for 13 shooting and nine assists. The gaping disparity between the two players was never more obvious than during the Sixers’ 131-115 win over the Nets (see observations). 

Simmons, for his part, brushed aside a question about whether he’d proven he was more than the “average” half-court player Dudley said he was. 

“I don’t know,” he said.” I’m not worried about it.”

“I try not to pay too much attention to what’s going on social media or what people say just because they’re going to say what they want to say. I’m not going to let that affect me on the floor. I’m going to do my job when I step on the floor and play the point guard position the best I can.”

Brett Brown gushed about a second straight excellent performance from Simmons, who helped split the offensive load with Joel Embiid out because of left knee soreness. Simmons responded to the Nets’ heightened physicality with him by making 9 of 11 free throws and became the first Sixer to ever score 31 or more points and shoot 80 percent or better from the floor in a playoff game, per Basketball-Reference.

Whether he’s getting booed or there’s something else going on as it relates to scrutinizing Ben, he is tremendously confident in himself. He has put in a tremendous amount of work to earn that privilege. I’m so happy for him to play like he played tonight. … I think he feeds off that but it’s not like he’s beating his chest out there. I think internally, he’s got tremendous inner confidence.

Simmons’ inner confidence often manifests as arrogance. He knows he’s in a different class than Dudley and was happy to show the world. The 22-year-old plays with a smirk that suggests he savors dominating inferior opponents.

Though the Sixers still need two wins to advance to the second round and diminish Dudley’s place in the national spotlight, Simmons already wants to move on. In his mind, Dudley isn’t worth worrying about.

The questions about how Simmons will fare against the Eastern Conference’s elite teams or his ideal role in the Sixers’ half-court offense — largely off the ball since the return of James Ennis and corresponding increase in Jimmy Butler’s time at point guard — are still present. 

For now, though, he says the questions posed by and about Jared Dudley are far from his mind.

“I don’t really have energy for it,” Simmons said. “It’s done. People are going to say what they want to say. Just gotta play.”

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Sixers

Matisse Thybulle continues to crush every opportunity Sixers give him

Matisse Thybulle continues to crush every opportunity Sixers give him

Just when you think that the Matisse Thybulle hype may be a little premature, the rookie gets his hands on another basketball.

The first-round pick has been wreaking havoc at every turn through four preseason games — including Tuesday’s 106-86 win over the Pistons at the Wells Fargo Center (see observations). He finished with four steals and two blocks in just 25 minutes.

From when he stole the show at the Blue x White Scrimmage in Delaware to his highlight-reel steals and blocks in games since, Thybulle has been as advertised. The Naismith Defensive Player of the Year has shed any concerns about coming from Washington’s zone in college and is earning his way into meaningful NBA minutes.

With Ben Simmons and Al Horford sitting out, Thybulle got the chance to start Tuesday.

Another opportunity he relished and crushed.

“It felt good,” Thybulle said postgame. “I’m lucky we’ve got great guys — they helped me feel comfortable out there so that I can get out there and just play my game, not be someone I’m not. Just step into my role and do my thing.”

That role is starting to look like it’s going to be a big one. 

It’s not too often rookies get regular rotation minutes for a team chasing an NBA title. It’s a testament to how good Thybulle has been. This isn’t like last season when Brett Brown was desperately looking for someone to give him solid minutes.

This bench is loaded with veterans — and the 22-year-old doesn’t look out of place.

“When you talk to him, you don't feel like you're talking to a young kid at all,” Brown said. “In fact, I think that he's sophisticated at times, maybe beyond his years, and I think he's smart. He takes pride on trying to be smart. It means something to him to be studied and not make mistakes.”

Thybulle’s defensive numbers in college were video game like. His numbers through four NBA preseason games aren’t far off.

In a little under 20 minutes a night, Thybulle has averaged three steals and 1.5 blocks a game for the Sixers. Not to mention the ridiculous amount of deflections he’s racked up. 

That style of play is not without its flaws. By taking chances, Thybulle will at times leave his team in precarious situations. On the other hand, those steals, blocks and deflections can be momentum-shifting plays.

“It’s a calculated risk,” Thybulle said pregame. “And that’s been a huge thing in these preseason games, just trying to find that line of how far can I push it before I’m going to put my guys in tough situations. And also, I don’t need to be super reserved because Coach has put me in a lot of good spots.”

While Thybulle tries to balance making plays on the ball against making sure he’s being responsible, Brown is happy to let the rookie try to figure it out.

“Yeah, he’s never told me to hold back on the defensive end,” Thybulle said. “I’ve made some reckless decisions on whether I should go chase the ball or not and have been out of position a lot, and he just continues to let me explore that and find that fine line for myself.”

Thybulle may look like a player that should’ve gone higher than his draft slot, but the Sixers did give something up to move up to get him. The second-round pick the Sixers traded to Boston to go from 24 to 20 turned into Purdue sharpshooter Carsen Edwards.

While Thybulle was flying around the court in Philly Tuesday, Edwards sank eight threes in the third quarter for the Celtics in Cleveland. The Sixers could’ve maybe used some of that offensive punch off their bench.

But if Thybulle continues to play at this level, there’s no telling how high his ceiling is. Perhaps it’ll be Danny Ainge and the Celtics one day regretting the fact that Thybulle was theirs for about five minutes.

“I think he's great, man,” Josh Richardson said. “I like his energy that he plays with every night. I think he has a chance to be one of the elite defenders in the NBA. He has instincts that you really can't teach. So I'm excited about him and I think he's going to be a great help for us.”

And it looks like he’ll be helping as early as opening night against Boston next week.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Sixers

Dominant Joel Embiid looks ready for the games to count as Sixers beat Pistons in preseason

Dominant Joel Embiid looks ready for the games to count as Sixers beat Pistons in preseason

BOX SCORE 

The Sixers have one more preseason contest before the games count, and Joel Embiid certainly looks ready for that moment.

Embiid was dominant Tuesday night, with 24 points and eight rebounds in 22 minutes as the Sixers beat the Detroit Pistons, 106-86.

Six players missed Tuesday's game. Ben Simmons (back tightness), James Ennis (right calf strain) and Al Horford (rest) were out for the Sixers, and Andre Drummond (rest), Blake Griffin (left hamstring soreness) and Markieff Morris (illness) sat for Detroit. 

The Sixers, 4-0 in the preseason, play the Wizards on Friday at 7 p.m. before their regular season opener next Wednesday vs. the Celtics. 

• Detroit started Thon Maker in Drummond’s place. Embiid attacked him immediately, scoring the Sixers’ first six points on a jumper from the foul line, two free throws earned after a strong drive to the rim and a lefty layup that was a byproduct of deep post positioning. 

It was a predictably aggressive start by Embiid, who had 12 points in the first quarter and made all six of his free throws. Playing against Drummond might have been better preparation for the regular season, but looking to be ruthless inside vs. overmatched players is useful for Embiid, too. He finds himself in that situation plenty. 

• Josh Richardson started at point guard, a look Brett Brown said pregame he was “excited” to further explore. 

Richardson had 11 points on 4 for 12 shooting, six rebounds, five assists and two turnovers. He sometimes struggles playing against length and through contact, but he’s tended to make good decisions with the ball in his hands. 

If Richardson begins the season as the backup point guard — as he was Sunday night against the Magic — that would shift the competition between Raul Neto and Trey Burke to the background.

Burke played with the regulars and had six points and an assist in 15 minutes.

• Shake Milton saw time off the bench at the wing next to Richardson and turned in a solid performance, with six points on 3 for 5 shooting. He’s generally kept his man in front of him on defense during the preseason and had a well-timed block on Derrick Rose at the end of the first quarter. 

• Matisse Thybulle has an exceptional ability to chew up ground and recover when he’s seemingly out of the play.

“I make a lot of mistakes, it’s just covered up by steals and deflections,” he said before the game, a humble assessment. 

Brown has encouraged Thybulle to gamble and make those “mistakes,” and he’s delivered with disruptive defense. The rookie had seven points, six rebounds, four steals and two blocks in his first career start.  

• Even though Tobias Harris started at power forward in this game, the continued emphasis on getting him opportunities with his back to the basket was noticeable. The movement around Harris and understanding of how to play off him in the post is still developing, but the desire to put Harris in more of those spots makes sense. When he has size and strength on an opponent — as he will often this season at small forward — Harris is good at taking his time and making his advantages count. 

He had 10 points on 4 for 11 shooting, five rebounds and three assists vs. Detroit.

• The question of whether the Sixers have adequate outside shooting after the departure of JJ Redick remains a valid one. They entered Tuesday’s game shooting 34.5 percent from three-point range in the preseason, and that percentage fell after a 6 for 24 night.

Furkan Korkmaz’s path to consistent minutes is through helping to mitigate that issue. He has a reputation as a three-point marksman, though he’s shot just 32.3 percent from long range in 62 NBA career games. His performance Tuesday — 10 points on 4 for 7 shooting (2 for 4 from three) — might strengthen his case in Brown’s eyes.

• Kyle O’Quinn seems to make at least one eyebrow-raising pass every game — in a good way. He had nine assists in Orlando and five Tuesday, including a perfectly timed and weighted bounce pass to Thybulle for a dunk. 

• Two-way player Norvel Pelle kept the crowd at Wells Fargo Center excited late with his blend of lobs, blocked shots and theatrical poses. He played the entire fourth quarter and had 13 points and five blocks.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Sixers