Al Horford

Can Ben Simmons address his 1 glaring weakness in offseason?

Can Ben Simmons address his 1 glaring weakness in offseason?

CAMDEN, N.J. — Ben Simmons has plenty of strengths as a basketball player. His ability to handle the ball and find his teammates at 6-foot-10 is special. Shooting, however, continues to stand out as a weakness.

In the Sixers’ series loss to the Celtics, Simmons made 1 of 6 shots from 10 feet and out. Boston gave him space to shoot and it was clear that, at this stage in his development, he’s not comfortable attempting anything outside of the paint.

Thursday, Simmons acknowledged his jumper is one of the areas he needs to work on this offseason. While some think that radical alterations are necessary, including Jalen Rose and JJ Redick, who have suggested Simmons should be shooting with his right hand, Simmons said he’ll only be making “minor” changes. He recognizes that improving his jumper would force defenses to guard him differently.

“I think it just takes time shooting the ball,” Simmons said. “Obviously I’m very good at getting to the rim and making plays, so that’s what [the Celtics] were trying to stop me doing, and they did a good job of doing that. It’s one of those things where you just want to improve your game and get better, and once you start hitting the shots, they change up their defense, so everything has a counter.”

Al Horford, the Celtics’ primary defender on Simmons, had an interesting perspective on how much greater of an offensive threat Simmons will be if he can develop his shot.

“He’s already difficult to guard,” Horford said before Game 4. “Like all players, we all make progressions. When I came in the league, I wasn’t shooting much outside the paint. And over the years, I’ve expanded my game — you can say that about a lot of guys. And I feel like with him, it’ll just be another weapon in his arsenal, that he will continue to develop that [jumper].”

Simmons knows that opposing defenses will have a lot more trouble if they can’t always default to the strategy of sagging off him and clogging the lane.

“I think offensively, it’s going to be tough to stop me,” he said. “And then obviously for the team, we have another guy who can knock down shots and score, and a guy who can make plays. So I think it’s going to be scary.”

Heading into this season, Simmons said his focus was on getting better as a leader and facilitator. He’s confident he can address the one glaring weakness in his game this offseason.

“There’s never been a year where I haven’t gotten better at something,” Simmons said.

Even without a remotely dependable jump shot to speak of, Simmons posted 15.8 points, 8.1 rebounds and 8.2 assists during his first regular season in the NBA. And despite some of his struggles in the playoffs, most notably in a dismal Game 2 against the Celtics, Simmons averaged 16.3 points, 9.4 rebounds and 7.7 assists in the postseason.

Is that résumé worthy of winning Rookie of the Year? If he wins it, Simmons said he has his teammates to thank.

“It just means I have great teammates who can knock down shots,” Simmons said of possibly winning Rookie of the Year. “It would mean a lot, but I don’t really judge my success on one accolade, so whatever the decision is, it is. But obviously, I’d take myself over anybody.”

Sixers eliminated in thrilling Game 5 loss to Celtics

Sixers eliminated in thrilling Game 5 loss to Celtics

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BOSTON — The Sixers' season is over.

Their hunt to become the first NBA team to fight back from a 3-0 deficit to win a seven-game series ended in Game 5 with a down-to-the-wire 114-112 loss to the Celtics at TD Garden Wednesday.

In a battle that came down to the final possession, the Sixers fell short in the deciding game that featured 21 lead changes and 11 ties.

The Celtics move on to face the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals. 

• A combination of missed threes, turnovers and failed free throws totaled up in Game 5. The Sixers shot 8 for 21 from long range, 24 for 31 at the line and gave up 16 points off 17 turnovers. Brett Brown considered that “leaving points on the table,” and they have an extra sting given the two-point game differential. 

• The Sixers were in this game until the very end. After falling behind by nine at halftime, they fought back in the third. The Sixers outscored the Celtics, 30-22, in the quarter and led, 94-90, with 8:51 to play, but the Celtics went on a 10-0 spurt to claim a six-point edge.  

• The final minutes of the game became a race for the Celtics to build upon their lead and the Sixers frantically trying to catch up. And the Sixers did. The Sixers were up four with 1:37 remaining before the Celtics made another push. 

• JJ Redick drained a three to make it a one-point game with 3.8 seconds to go. T.J. McConnell fouled Marcus Smart, who had been 7 for 11 at the line. Smart went 1 of 2, leaving the window open for the Sixers to pull off a heroic last shot. That wouldn’t happen. Smart picked off Simmons’ long inbounds pass as the buzzer sounded and the Celtics advanced. 

• Redick is a student of game film. This likely will be one he watches back a few times. Redick (14 points) shot 5 for 13 from the field and 2 for 7 from three. That includes his key trey down the stretch, but overall he was off the mark in 38 minutes. Redick also ran into foul trouble with five whistles. 

• Joel Embiid played in a mask without goggles. He scored 27 points as he went 9 for 18 from the field and 0 for 4 from three. Embiid pulled down 12 rebounds.

He had a chance to tie the game with 12.5 seconds remaining, but he missed a shot over Aron Baynes at the rim. He was able to grab his own rebound only to have Terry Rozier smack the ball off the center’s body and out of bounds.

Embiid will not use his mask for an excuse, and it will be left to wonder how much it impacted him in the playoffs.

• Jayson Tatum continued to look more experienced than a rookie with another 20-plus point game. He led the Celtics with 25.

• Dario Saric came through with 27 points and 10 rebounds. Ben Simmons posted 18 points, eight boards and six assists. 

• Brad Stevens responded to the Sixers’ lineup change of inserting McConnell by moving Jaylen Brown back into the starting five. Smart came off the bench. Brown had been playing with the second unit after suffering a hamstring injury in the first round. The athletic Brown scored 24 points in 31 minutes. McConnell had nine points, six rebounds and five assists in 38 minutes.

Ben Simmons finally looks like a rookie in Sixers' Game 2 collapse

Ben Simmons finally looks like a rookie in Sixers' Game 2 collapse

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BOSTON — For the first time in a while, Ben Simmons looked like a rookie.

The usually cool-under-pressure point guard scored one point Thursday in the Sixers’ 108-103 Game 2 loss to the Celtics (see observations). Simmons believes his performance had more to do with his own mindset than the Celtics’ strategy. 

“I think it was mainly what I did to myself,” Simmons said. “I think mentally, I was thinking too much, overthinking the plays and wasn’t just out there flowing and playing the way that I play, which is free.” 

Simmons failed to make a field goal for the first time in his short NBA career. He shot 0 for 4 and netted his single point at the line. Simmons added five rebounds and seven assists, but ran into turnover trouble again with five (12 in the series) (see highlights). Brett Brown went with T.J. McConnell for the first half of the fourth quarter. 

It was an uncharacteristic performance for the 21-year-old, who has risen to the occasion on the big stage. Simmons rarely is fazed by the moment, averaging close to 20, 10, 10 in the first round and posting one of his 12 regular-season triple-doubles last month against LeBron James. 

"I think it was self-inflicted from myself," Simmons said. 

Single games are different than series. The Celtics have hours upon hours to map out new ways to limit the Rookie of the Year candidate. They spent the previous two days diving into how they could slow Simmons down, deciding to roll out different defenders, including Al Horford, Marcus Morris and Marcus Smart. The Celtics also looked to lock down on his teammates to take away his open passes and force him to score. They will have until Saturday at 5 p.m. to anticipate the adjustments Simmons will make. 

“He’s a heck of a player and obviously he didn’t play as well tonight, but good players always respond,” Brad Stevens said. “We’re going to have to be even better in Game 3, but trying our best to keep him in front and — he’s really hard to guard with a smaller player because he’s so big and strong and shifty. We’re fortunate to have a bunch of bodies to be able to kind of rotate guys.”

The Sixers advanced from one hard-nosed opponent to another. They were battle-tested by the Heat and face a group of feisty defenders on the Celtics. 

Simmons said he was not impacted by Morris because the Heat played “on another level” of physicality in the first round. Brown, though, saw the Celtics cause problems with their toughness. 

“With Ben, I give him credit,” Brown said. “They do a good job defending him. There’s an element of physicality that I feel that they have applied to all of us and tonight Ben struggled, as we see. I do give Boston’s defense a lot of credit and respect.”

Simmons is a matter-of-fact kind of player. He spoke candidly about his struggles and is ready to move on, leaving his overthinking behind in Boston. 

"That’s the thing, I’m going to have bad games," Simmons said. "It happens. Obviously, it’s not the perfect timing, but we’re heading home now. We have two home games that we need to take care of and handle business. We have the team to do it and the coaching staff. Just got to go do it.”